ProPublica is a non-profit news group dedicated to public interest investigative journalism.
Their reporters matched for the first time federal data on payments from drug companies to prescribers and records on drugs prescribed by doctors to their Medicare patients. Until now, this has been secret information, known to the drug industry, but not the public.
The report exposed some troubling drugmaker marketing strategies.
ProPublica looked into why expensive name brand drugs are prescribed so often when significantly cheaper generics are proven to be just as effective. By examining the payment data disclosed by these drugmakers and comparing it to Medicare prescription records, ProPublica discovered something disconcerting. Top prescribers of these expensive name-brand drugs were given a financial incentive to do so by the drugmakers.
Bystolic, a blood pressure medication made by Forest Laboratories was one of the prescriptions studied. “At least 17 of the top 20 Bystolic prescribers in Medicare’s prescription drug program in 2010 have been paid by Forest to deliver promotional talks. In 2012, they together received $284,700 for speeches and more than $20,000 in meals.”
The report also identified drugmakers Novartis, Johnson&Johnson, Pfizer, and GlaxoSmithKline as engaging in a similar financially driven industry relationship with their drugs’ top prescribers.
- 9/10 top prescribers of the Alzheimer’s drug, Exelon, received money from the drugmaker Novartis.
- 8/10 top prescribers of the painkiller, Nucynta, were speakers paid by the drugmaker, Johnson & Johnson.
- 6/ 10 top prescribers of the antidepressant, Pristiq, were speakers paid by the drugmaker Pfizer.
- 7/10 top prescribers of the asthma drug, Advair Diskus, were speakers paid by the drugmaker, GlaxoSmithKline.
This issue affects everyone, not only those prescribed the name brand drug. Taxpayers subsidize the cost of the Medicare prescription drug program, and last year alone, taxpayers spent $62 billion dollars in subsidies. “Each of the top 20 prescribers of Bystolic wrote at least 530 prescriptions in Part D in 2010”. The name brand drug Bystolic retails for $80, while a generic prescription only costs $10. If one is not superior to the other, physician prescription of the name brand seems a complete waste of patient and taxpayer money.
If you don’t approve of drugmakers’ wallets influencing the prescription pad, you may be interested in some legislation we are pushing. Direct payment to prescribers through speaking fees is not the only method of bribery that is going on. As we have reported in past blog posts, the pharmaceutical industry has long been providing more than a convincing pitch about why their drugs are best. Sales reps tend to not only give out free samples of the drug but often wine and dine physicians, providing them with far more than information. The academic detailing program approved in the budget, and another HFCA bill, An Act to Define Modest Meals and refreshments in Prescriber Education Settings (H.2018) / An Act to Prevent Undue Influence on Prescriber Behavior (S.1051) (learn more here) would establish concrete guidelines on how much could be spent on physicians and where these drug pitches could take place. It would also prohibit pharmaceutical reps from purchasing alcoholic beverages for physicians during presentations that are, after all, supposedly educational in nature. We strongly support these bills and hope you will too!
Thanks to ProPublica for providing tangible information that supports our stance on the issue.
To look into whether your healthcare provider has received money from a drugmaker click here.