Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Senator calls for transparency in Big Pharma payments

I think that a drug company registry of payments to doctors is an excellent idea, regardless of which party is sponsoring the bill. (In this case, it's being pushed by Senator Grassley, R-Iowa.) The Senator notes that there is currently no way that patients can really know if their doctor is receiving large payments from pharmaceutical companies to shill for a drug. He even suggested that just as elected members of Congress have every lobbyist and donor listed publicly, that pharmaceutical payments to doctors be publicly available so that patients can know if their doctors are getting paid by drug companies, since not all doctors state "I have a conflict of interest because I consult for Y pharma."

Mr. Grassley is one of several lawmakers to propose a federal registry of such payments. Minnesota, Vermont and Maine already have similar registries, and other states are considering them.

The proposals are a response to growing concerns that payments from drug makers can affect doctors’ prescribing habits, increase the cost of health care and, in some cases, endanger patients’ health.

It's long been a dirty secret that pharmaceutical companies give doctors presents far beyond the pen that they write your prescription with, or the notepad on their desk. Indeed, Big Pharma will sponsor vacations to the Caribbean or Hawaii under the guise of "attending a conference" and pay for lavish meals, ball game tickets, whatever. Some even pay doctors thousands a year directly as consultants. And if you don't think that this all somehow influences these doctors' choices, even indirectly, in what they prescribe to you as their patient -- well, I have a boat full of crap I'd like to sell you.

The marketing to doctors begins at a very early stage -- in med school, with lunches and happy hours sponsored by drug companies, with free goodies of all imaginable sorts. If you wonder why a bit of free food goes a long ways, you should also know that med students and residents often don't get the time to eat. I'm not saying that all med students and residents buy into this -- most know that they are being pandered to, but most still eat the food and accept the free pens, memory sticks, and other nifty gadgets. Incidentally, there is a movement to NOT accept the free food called No Free Lunch.

But you know, if the food doesn't get you, maybe the sex will. HUH?!?! you ask. Lots of drug reps, male and female, are hired for being extremely hot. Well, other attributes apply, but there's a direct funnel from university cheerleading into being a drug rep. These poor reps get hit on, and some definitely turn up the charm to fill monthly quotas. But these are stories for other days...back to topic A -- transparency in pharm payments to doctors.

. . .In a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday, Mr. Grassley said he had started an investigation into these practices. Noting that most universities require academic researchers to disclose such payments, he said, “I have sent letters to a handful of universities to understand how well such a reporting system actually works.”

These letters have uncovered several problems, Mr. Grassley said. First, universities do not verify the information filed by their professors, so “the only person who knows if the reported income is accurate and complete is the doctor who is receiving the money.”

Also, the universities generally keep this information secret from patients, who have no way of knowing whether their doctor is on a drug maker’s payroll, he said.

“So if there is a doctor getting thousands of dollars from a drug company — payments that might be affecting his or her objectivity — the only people outside the pharmaceutical industry who will probably ever know about this are the people at that very university,” he said.

This is a bill that needs to get passed because patients deserve to shine a light on Big Pharma's dirty contributions.

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