Put Patients Before Drug and Device Company Profits

Yesterday’s House vote to repeal the state’s gift ban and disclosure law is a step back from Massachusetts’ landmark health reform law.  We are disappointed that some House members chose to put drug and device profits ahead of patients’ health.  And we thank those members who fought to keep the law intact.

Research shows that giving gifts to prescribers influences which drugs they prescribe for patients.  And drug and device companies promote the most expensive, name-brand, least-proven drugs.   In addition to the billions of dollars spent annually on prescriber marketing, the drug and device companies’ profits rise as a result of the marketing. The return on investment for drug and device marketing can be as high as 500%, which is why the companies spend so much money marketing- double what they spend on research and development.   Our gift ban and disclosure law curbs not only the initial marketing expensive, but protects businesses and consumers from rising prescription drug costs.  All patients should be able to get the drugs they need at an affordable price.  For more background on the need for this law check out our earlier blogs (here and here).

During yesterday’s debate, there was discussion about what our law does and does not do.  For details, check out the DPH pharma/med website here, but here is a quick summary:

  1. Meals are allowed in a hospital setting, which mirrors the voluntary pharma and med device codes of conduct.  The voluntary codes do not allow meals off-site at restaurants.
  2. Massachusetts is joined by Vermont (which has the strongest law in the nation) and Minnesota in having gift bans in effect and several other states are seeking to implement laws in the next year.  Several Massachusetts’ institutions have put complete bans and disclosure requirements in place: Boston University, UMass, and Partners Healthcare.
  3. Massachusetts is the recipient of the most federal research dollars annually.  Our law specifically exempts disclosure of research-related payments.
  4. Our law does not set an annual limit on the amount of money a company can spend on a prescriber, however there is a point ($50) at which the drug or device company must disclose how much was spent and for what purpose.

This drug and device gift ban and disclosure law keeps marketing money from getting between the patient and their prescriber.  It should not be repealed.

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6 Responses to Put Patients Before Drug and Device Company Profits

  1. Tom says:

    Then let’s work to expand the law to cover the groups whose activities you suggest are flying under the radar. The answer is not to repeal the law with an 8-word sentence tucked into an economic development bill. Pharma companies want to get rid of this law for one reason and one reason only — because it will be better for business. It really has nothing to do with patients, co-pays or anything else that would be beneficial to the public interest. It’s all about the benjamins.

    • Beth says:

      I’m with you on that one. Total transparency across all healthcare stakeholders, not just big pharma, would be extremely beneficial. There is a reason why the Obama administration focused away from pharma and more towards health insurance.

  2. Beth says:

    The bottom line is that there are many companies in Massachusetts financially incentivized to blunt the utilization of branded medicines (Blue Cross Blue Shield, pharmacy corporations like Wallgreens, large hospital corporations like Partners, pharmacy benefit managers, large physician groups). All of these industries reap large payments for generic utilization by physicians. It is possible for new medicines to reduce cost by reducing hospitilization, ER visits, dialysis, long term care etc. Big pharma and device ceratinly have their warts, but let’s not overlook some of the hypocrisy here. Large hospital corporations attend golf events with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. This does not happen with device or pharma and doctors. Undue influence can cut both ways.

    Massachusetts has the highest percentage of generic utilization in the United States already. Is it really necessary to create and uphold laws that hurt restaurants?

    • Tom says:

      Beth, the law was not passed to hurt restaurants. In fact most claims about the law vis a vis food are simply misinformation. It is Big Pharma that doesn’t like this law — they fought it every step of the way and it appears they never stopped. The law and the rules that come from it is actually quite reasonable. In most cases it merely requires disclosure of “gifts” that the industry provides our health care providers. I think it borders on the ridiculous to defend the marketing practices of pharma companies. Transparency is exactly what we need and this law requires it.

      • Beth says:

        You obviously do not own a restaurant in Worcester or Springfield or Fall River. I agree with the need for transparency, and that can still exist with pharma sponsored programs at restaurants – simply have the companies report the attendees and the amount spent, just as is being done with in-office lunches. There is no reason to eradicate these programs. The vast majority of prescriptions in the state of Massachusetts are generic. If these marketing practices were so deleterious, then that would not be the case. It is well accepted that the price of the branded meds will not go down with or without the dinners. Everyone is hyperfocused on sqeezing blood out of the generic stone. Meanwhile patients are paying $10 & $15 tier 1 copays so insurance companies, pbm’s & physician groups can take their pound of flesh. Seriously, $15.00 for a 40 year old diuretic. Are you kidding me? Meanwhile, the marketing practices of these other industries are flying completely under the radar.

  3. ? says:

    ($50) is the point?
    Is that 50 gold dollars?
    50 silver dollars?
    Or 50 laughable Federal Reserve Note dollars?

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