Thursday’s Washington Post provided the perfect backdrop to Friday’s DPH hearing on the pharma gift ban and disclosure regulations. In an article titled “With More Oversight on the Horizon, Drugmakers Work to Polish Image,” the Post reported that drug companies are now voluntarily submiting “to a host of marketing restrictions in an attempt to preempt stricter regulations that lawmakers in both parties are pursuing.”
Stating the obvious, the Merck spokesman said, “We understand clearly that we are entering this debate at a time when the pharmaceutical industry’s standing is low.” In addition to a voluntary ban on some trinketeering, they’re also agreeing to some forms of health reform, to baby step restrictions on direct-to-consumer advertising, and they’re even starting to make campaign donations to Democrats. The article ends by pointing out that the biotech drug industry refuses to even adopt the voluntary PhRMA code (and see this Prescription Project blog post comparing words and reality, so far).Thus the three-hour, standing room only hearing Friday (the first of two) featured testimony from numerous trade and industry groups, doctors, nurses, and researchers, all claiming they supported transparency, just not too much. The most surprising testimony came from hotel interests who argued that they would lose millions of dollars because drug companies may take their conferences elsewhere if the regulations are implemented. The comic relief was a claim that an unnamed group had just canceled its meeting in 2015, all due solely to the draft regulations that had not even been adopted yet.
All of this was decisively countered by Senators Richard Moore (press release) and Mark Montigny, authors of the legislative provision DPH is implementing. Moore’s testimony and in a letter written with the bill’s conference committee co-chair former State Representative Patricia Walrath, made legislative intent clear: “I believe that the limitations on disclosure in the regulations negate the original intent of the legislature. The regulations as currently drafted create a loophole that permits the industry to continue to make payments to healthcare providers with no oversight and no accountability.”
Senator Montigny testified that this was the first time in his nearly 17-year career that he has come before the Council with both sadness and disappointment because he believes that the draft regulations “gut” the legislative intent of the law. Senator Montigny addressed six key weaknesses of the draft regulations.
Also testifying in favor of closing the loopholes in the draft regulations were AARP, AIDS Action Committee, the Mass Senior Action Council, and the Mass Prescription Reform Coalition. The Coalition stated that they expected written testimony to be submitted by a host of national and Massachusetts experts.
Round two will occur Monday, at UMASS Memorial Hospital, at 1pm (55 Lake Avenue North, Amphitheater I, 2nd floor, Worcester).
Brian Rosman and Jessica Hamilton