The law banning pharmaceutical gifts to doctors continues to pick up steam, having already been passed by the Massachusetts State Senate, and now being considered in the House Ways and Means Committee. You can get a quick education on the issue by watching this NECN debate between myself and Harvard's Tom Stossel.
I recently learned about an unintended putative victim of this bill: companies that specialize in catering all those free lunches. Kevin Abt, CEO of Restaurants to You, has written this letter to his state representative complaining that not only will his business suffer, but that caterers state-wide will lose $40 million if the bill is passed.
The letter, along with 22 entertaining comments, is posted on the political blog Blue Mass Group, which bills itself as "reality based commentary on politics and policy in Massachusetts and around the nation."
Please go to this great site and read. Here are snippets from some of my favorite responses to Mr. Abt-the-caterer's concerns:
1. "Just because a drug rep isn't paying doesn't mean the doctors won't be eating lunch. This isn't going to be $40 million just disappearing from our economy. It's going to be shifted around some. I bet non-catering deli counters in the vicinity of hospitals will be thrilled to have the gift ban passed. I don't mean to be insensitive to the plight of Mr. Abt and other caterers who have made a business out of catering lunches between doctors and drug reps, but businesses are forced to adjust and adapt all the time for any number of reasons."
2. "So, let's not ban lunch-n-learns. In fact, there's no request to do so. Let's just let the doctors buy their own lunch. After all, at only $8-$20, it wouldn't be a burden on the doctor. Doctors gotta eat. So, it's not about foodz4u.com, it's about who pays for foodz4u.com. This bill wouldn't allow the drug companies to buy the food for the doctors."
3. "By his logic doctors will just go hungry if they don't get free lunches from PhRMA companies. The doctors I know, including my wife, are getting their lunches from the small local restaurants he is claiming will lose money. Of course, the last thing this guy wants is for health care workers to walk to their local restaurants instead of eating catered lunches. More and more hospitals are banning such practices in any case, so whining about it to the legislature is probably not going to do all that much good in the long run."
I might add that Mr. Abt's pulled-out-of-the-air estimate of $40 million cuts both ways. From his point of view, it is $40 million lost from the pockets of a niche food business. But from the consumer's point of view it reminds us of the enormous scale of the pharmaceutical marketing endeavor. The drug industry was once considered an important engine of research and development. But the dirty little secret is that pharmaceutical companies spend more on promotion than on research--much more. The latest analysis, published in PLOS Medicine, estimates that in 2004, drug companies spent $31.5 billion on R & D, dwarfed by the $57.5 billion they spent on marketing and promotion.
I suggest the Mr. Abt begin marketing his tasty offerings directly to physicians--I doubt he'll go out of business.