Pills and prescription bottles
Though it isn't widely discussed, there is still a fair amount of corruption in the medical field and especially when it comes to prescription drugs. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

There is a lot of talk about the doctor-patient relationship and that it is the cornerstone of practicing medicine in the U.S. It turns out that doctors have been getting incentives from pharmaceutical companies for prescribing certain drugs that may not benefit patients. Accusations abound that the medical industry is rife with corruption.

Corruption rarely mentioned in regard to health care

When it comes to the state of health care in the United States, the usual topics of discussion are either the rising cost of treatment or government involvement. What is rarely brought up is that there are rumors of corruption in the health care system. It has been disclosed that doctors sometimes receive “incentives” from the pharmaceutical industry. Some within the medical profession insist that the relationship is appropriate. For instance, the Heart Rhythm Society, an international non-profit organization that focuses on the study of cardiac rhythms, received almost $8 million from medical equipment and pharmaceutical companies but insists the providers of half its funding aren’t buying influence, according to USA Today. Of the 18 directors of the HRS, 12 are paid consultants or speakers for medical supply or drug companies.

Disclosure mandated by law

Pharmaceutical companies are required by law to disclose payments to doctors, in whatever manner they are disbursed. ProPublica recognizes several, including paying expenses and travel fees to conferences, speaking fees, consulting fees and other payments including things like meals and entertainment like sporting events. As of 2013, drug companies are required to begin reporting any and all payments of more than $25 to physicians under the Physician Sunshine Payment Act. Pfizer says it was paying $9.9 million per quarter to physicians for various reasons in 2010, and Johnson & Johnson claimed to be paying $3.5 million per quarter. In 2009, GlaxoSmithKline claimed to be paying $16.1 million per quarter and Eli Lilly claimed to pay $20.6 million per quarter.

Big pharma says it has good reasons

The pharmaceutical industry makes its living from sales of brand name drugs, which is why there is an incentive to get doctors to prescribe them. Pfizer, according to the New York Times, makes $11 billion alone from cholesterol drug Lipitor. Generic drugs, according to Reuters, cost 20 to 90 percent less than brand name. Pharmaceutical companies have been found to pay other drug companies to not make generic versions. The Federal Trade Commission found 31 instances of such pay offs between September of 2009 and September of 2010, involving 22 different drugs. The combined sales of those drugs amounted to more than $9 billion. Furthermore, there have been many instances of inappropriate payoffs to physicians by pharmaceutical companies. Merck, for instance, has just been ordered to pay the government $44.3 million in fines for illegal kickbacks and promotions, according to ABC, and in April, ex-Kansas City Chiefs player Dan Saleaumua split a $760,000 whistleblowing reward for exposing kickback payments offered to him by Cardinal Health Inc, according to Forbes.


USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/health/2011-05-05-medical-societies-sell-access-to-manufacturers_n.htm

ProPublica: http://projects.propublica.org/docdollars/

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/business/04pfizer.html?_r=1&ref=pfizerinc

Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/03/drugs-ftc-idUSN0312292920110503

ABC: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=13528024

Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2011/04/21/sports-specialized-consumer-services-us-saleaumua-kickbacks_8429704.html

For more on corruption in the medical trade, see “On The Take” by Dr. Jerome Kassirer and “Bitter Pills” by Stephen Fried.




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