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Congress to Consider Legislation Requiring Doctor Disclosure of Gifts Received from Drug Companies

Written by on Friday, March 21st, 2008

The Pharma Marketing Blog ran an interesting column today on the new proposed legislation, which would require doctors to disclose gifts received from drug companies. 

Introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Pete Stark (D- CA), the new legislation is called The Physician Payment Sunshine Act  and is a companion bill to S. 2029, which was introduced by Senators Chuck Grassly (R-IA) and Herb Kohl (D-WI).  According the the press release issued by U.S. Congressman Peter DeFazio, the purpose of the bill is as follows:

The legislation builds on existing laws in Minnesota, Vermont, Maine and West Virginia to require prescription and medical device manufacturers to publicly report any gifts with a value of $25 dollars or more provided to doctors in connection with their marketing activities.  Under the new legislation, this information would be made widely available to the public. . . ."Americans are being gouged by pharmaceutical companies that spend more on marketing than they do research and development." DeFazio said.  "They enjoy generous subsidies from the government, but have no accountability when it comes to the billions of dollars they spend promoting high priced drugs.  I am proud to introduce this legislation which would shine a light on the marketing practices of drug companies and give patients the information they need to make an informed decision about their healthcare."

The question, of course, being debated is whether it is a good idea to enact The Physician Payment Sunshine Act.  The Pharma Marketing Blog argues that this legislation goes too far in attempting to curb the potential for conflicts of interest, stating:

This "sunshine" bill also has a few dark clouds associated with it. I have to agree with Bob Ehrlich of DTC Perspectives that "this bill seems overly onerous" and "is meant to discourage payments to doctors by outing them and the drug company on a public site". . . .
Do I agree with this? I hate to sound like a Clinton, but it all depends on what "large" means. Is "large" more than $100? This is the cutoff amount specified in PhRMA’s voluntary guidelines on gifts to physicians. Usually, these types of bills attempt to codify such voluntary guidelines and I’m not sure where the $25 limit came from other than the idea of setting the bar so low that it would put the pharma "tchochke" industry out of business.

What is our view at the California Biotech Law Blog on the proposed legislation?  In my opinion, there is a definitely a need for legislation to regulate potential conflicts of interest in the medical profession.  Lawyers certainly receive close scrutiny on potential conflicts of interest, and I see no reason why physicians should not receive the same treatment.  I certainly would think twice about taking any drug recommended by my physician if I knew that the physician making the recommendation had received compensation of any nature from the drug company, and as a lawyer, I would expect any doctor to disclose such an association.  I’m frankly surprised that rules are not already in effect to require this type of dislosure.

As far as the issue of whether the $25 limit is reasonable, this does sseem a bit ridiculous and arbitrary.  Is receiving $25 really a conflict of interest, when it is only a fraction of the doctor’s total earnings? The standard on legal malpractice applications for weeding out potential conflicts of interest is typically ownership of more than 5% of the company at issue.   Perhaps a more reasonable conflict of interest standard would be 5% of the doctor’s total earnings in the year.  Or even 3% of the doctor’s total earnings. But $25? 

What are your thoughts on the new legislation?  Please let us know your thoughts on the issue and we will share them with our readers.



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