HCFA, MASSPIRG, AARP Urge Preservation of the Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Gift Ban

The state’s largest consumer, health care and senior organizations called on House members to oppose the partial repeal of the Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Gift Ban Law, commonly known as the gift ban, included in the House Ways and Means budget.

Included in health care cost containment legislation passed in 2008, the gift ban law is an important consumer protection law aimed at driving down our highest-in-the-nation, spiraling health care costs. The law reins in Big Pharma’s aggressive marketing tactics by banning gifts and/or payments of more than $50, including restaurant meals and entertainment, to physicians from drug and medical device companies.

Outside section 46 of the House budget repeals Section 2 of chapter 111N of the General Laws, which is the entire section of the gift ban law that restricts gifts and restaurant meals to health care providers.

“Nothing should come between the patients and their physicians. In order for patients to have confidence in our health care system, they need to know that the treatment plans recommended by their doctors were not influenced by fancy dinners or gifts,” said Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, Executive Director of Health Care For All, “Repealing or weakening our state’s gift ban law would not only increase health care costs, but also put relationships between doctors and their patients in jeopardy.”

The gift ban does not outlaw all contact between sales representatives and physicians – doctors are still free to work with the industry toward innovation and attend educational meetings with meals as long as such meetings occur within the provider settings or if the prescriber pays his or her own meal tab at a restaurant.

The ongoing effort to weaken or repeal the gift ban law is not led by physicians or patients, but by the Massachusetts Restaurant Association and the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

“Massachusetts consumers should not be expected to pay for fancy, free lunches that drug companies feed prescribers – especially when so many people, including seniors, can barely afford the health coverage they need,” said Bill Johnston-Walsh, interim state director of AARP Massachusetts, which represents more than 800,000 members age 50 and older in the Bay State.  “The state’s prescription drug and medical device gift ban law is one tool to help rein in costs.  No evidence exists that the law is hurting other industries – such as restaurants or convention centers.  But, we know for sure that consumers are struggling to afford the medicine they need to stay healthy and out of more expensive care.”

Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director for MASSPIRG, said “Massachusetts banned Big Pharma from picking up the tab for wining and dining our doctors for good reason — because we ultimately end up paying that bill in the form of more expensive, often unnecessary drugs. With our state already paying the highest health insurance premiums in the country, the very last thing the Legislature should be considering is repealing the ban.”

The Restaurant Association claims that the limits imposed on the wining and dining of physicians has cut into their profit margins.  Although restaurant receipts were down in 2008 and 2009, so were sales in virtually every industry because of the global economic recession.  As the state emerges from one of the largest economic crises in history, restaurants have seen their business pick back up.  In fact, according to the most recent data released by the Department of Revenue, restaurants are on track to have their best year ever in 2012, up more than $13 million so far over 2011 revenues. Restaurant revenues in 2011 were also up by more than $33 million over 2010 numbers.

Additionally, opponents of the gift ban have said it hurts biotech convention businesses and prevents the industry from doing business in Massachusetts.  However, the facts show that these predictions have not come to pass.  In 2012 alone, more than 50 medical-related conventions have been held or are scheduled to take place in Massachusetts. The BIO International Convention, the industry’s largest convention, will be coming back to Boston in June 2012. Massachusetts has also had its best year to date for biotech venture capital in 2011, beating the 2010 historic high.

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