Today, the Massachusetts legislature will consider a measure introduced by House speaker Robert DeLeo to repeal the historic drug company gift ban law enacted only two years ago. Why? Because wealthy restaurant owners are lobbying to return the state to the days when it was a haven for wining and dining doctors.
The interesting thing is that doctors themselves have resigned themselves to the law, and have largely embraced it. For example, Partners Healthcare, which includes both Mass General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s, forbids its staff from accepting any drug company meal, on site or off-site, and has banned its faculty from giving “educational” talks at restaurants (read their policy here).
It’s rather embarrassing that Massachusetts lawmakers have decided to ignore Harvard Medical School’s example, and are instead receiving their health policy instruction from restauranteurs. The most vocal of these nouveau medical ethics gurus has been Steve DiFillippo, owner of the Davio’s chain of Northern Italian Steakhouses, Avila’s, and a new line of Davio’s frozen foods. Below is a picture of Steve posing with Mayor Menino at the opening of one of his restaurants.
Last April, DiFillippo appeared on WGBH's Greater Boston to present his own version of Medical Ethics 101: “Besides my parents," he said, "who do I trust the most? It’s my doctor. I trust my doctor to go to an educational dinner where it's doctor on doctor and learn about the drug. And recommend the right drug.”
Emily Rooney: “You don’t think they are going to be unduly influenced?”
Steve DiFillippo: “We’re talking about doctors. You know, they go to doctor school for 12 years…to become a doctor. I think I can trust my doctor to make an educational decision.”
I appeared with DiFillippo on that program. What viewers did not see was that in the pre-show lounge, DiFillippo was working the crowd. Speaker Robert Deleo happened to also be in the lounge, where he was waiting to be interviewed about his effort to legalize casino gambling in Massachusetts. DiFillippo planted himself by his side and groused about how much income restaurants were losing from the ban on free meals for doctors. It was an eye-opener for me, seeing the political process in action. DeLeo and DiFillippo obviously knew one another from somewhere. They shook hands, they smiled, they chatted--it was the ancient machinery of wealth multiplying itself by rubbing up against power.
Evidently, DiFillippo’s knew what he was doing, because within three months, DeLeo had introduced legislation to repeal the gift ban. I assume that the Speaker has his heart in the right place in that he wants to stimulate the Massachusetts economy. Unfortunately, he is willing to trade ethics for money, both in his successful championing of casino gambling (a shady recreational pursuit which has ruined several of my patients’ lives) and now in his willingness to allow drug companies to resume bribery-as-usual of Massachusetts doctors.
If you happen to be a doctor looking forward to a bright future of free meals, here is a portion of Davios’ steakhouse offerings. Lick your chops!