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Prescription drug and device makers will be government-mandated to disclose kickbacks to doctors by 2013. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

One of the questionable secrets of the health care industry in the United States is the perks that drug companies give to doctors. Many see it as a major conflict of interest, and the government is drawing up legislation to compel drug companies to disclose such payments.

Rules on gifts from pharma firms overdue

For years, there has been talk of federal intervention into money and favors given to doctors by drug companies. Though outright payment is not allowed, speaking fees, free education seminars in exotic locales, free meals and other favors are given to doctors by pharmaceutical companies.

According to the New York Times, the favors from drug companies are known to influence medical decisions, and some people consider the practice to be a major conflict of interest. The Physician Payments Sunshine Act, part of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, mandated that federal rules be implemented regarding such payments by October 2011, but the new rules were never implemented, according to a statement on Senator Chuck Grassley’s website.

Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, was a co-sponsor of the law along with Democrat Herb Kohl from Wisconsin.

Open for comments

Currently, the Department of Health and Human Services is proposing that any drug or device company that makes a payment or gives gifts to a doctor or hospital that receives funds from Medicare or Medicaid to disclose the payment or value of the gift, if the amount exceeds $10, according to the Boston Globe.

The public can comment on the DHHS proposals until Feb. 17. The new disclosure rules for drug and/or medical device companies, according to NPR, are due to take effect in 2013, as per the laws of the Affordable Care Act.

No telling who took what

There is no federal law, according to NPR, that mandates doctors disclose gifts from drug companies. The government doesn’t maintain data on what doctors are receiving from whom, but the leading investigation into what are often called “pharmaceutical kickbacks” is the ongoing “Dollars For Docs” database by ProPublica. The ProPublica “Dollars For Docs” database is free to the public and doctors can searched by name or other criteria.

Data isn’t available yet for 2011, but ProPublica found that the eight pharmaceutical companies it studied made donations of $760 million to doctors and other health care providers such as hospitals between the beginning of 2009 and the end of the second quarter of 2011. The number of payments began to slow in 2010 and continued to do so into 2011.

Drug companies have asserted the lower amounts spent on drug marketing were due to “normal year-to-year fluctuation” or a “better use of resources” but much of the slowdown appears to have begun around the time the first edition of the Dollars For Docs database.

Sources

New York Times

Boston Globe

ProPublica

NPR: http://www.npr.org/2011/09/13/140438636/doctors-often-receive-payments-from-drug-companies

Dollars for Docs: http://projects.propublica.org/docdollars/

Senator Chuck Grassley: http://www.grassley.senate.gov/about/A-Ray-of-Sunshine-on-Drug-Company-Payments-to-Doctors.cfm

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