After many months of debate, negotiations, and op-ed wars, the Massachusetts Legislature has passed a bill imposing strict limits on the most unethical aspects of pharmaceutical marketing. You can read more about it in the Boston Globe and in the Prescription Project website. The bill passed both the Senate and the House last night, and is now awaiting Governor Deval Patrick's signature. The provisions include the following:
--Both drug companies and medical device companies must disclose any payments or gifts to doctors valued at $50 or more. These payments will be disclosed on a publicly accessible database. This will include any payments to hired gun physicians who are on company speaker's bureaus, but unfortunately will not include third party payments in which medical education companies launder drug company money and cut checks to physicians for industry-funded CME programs. This means, for example, that Pri-Med will still be able to convene its many industry-funded CME meetings in Boston and the physicians will not have to disclose how many thousands of dollars they are being paid to focus on topics of commercial interest to the sponsors. Overall, this is a partial win for transparency. I'll take it!
--The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is directed to establish legally binding regulations governing the giving of gifts to doctors, regulations that must be at least as stringent as the recently announced PhRMA code, and may be more stringent. As I covered in a prior post, the new PhRMA code requests that companies no longer give tchotchkes to doctors (eg., mugs and pens) but allows in-office lunches. This is a purely voluntary code. The new law transforms this voluntary code into state law, and establishes a $5000 per violation fine to enforce it. Note that this is not a draconian fine to be paid by physicians, as a prior version of the law stipulated--this is payable by the drug companies if they skirt the regulations.
--Massachusetts must establish an academic detailing program to provide unbiased medical information to physicians. This will be similar to the successful Pennsylvania program already in operation.
Overall, this compromise bill is a great step forward, and I congratulate the many committed organizations that made this happen, including Health Care for All, the Prescription Project, and the Massachusetts Prescription Reform Coalition. Let's hope the governor signs the bill into law sooner rather than later!