Senate Bill Restricts Gifts From Big Pharma

Jane Akre
May 24, 2017

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Mesh Medical Device News Desk, May 24, 2017 ~ A bill just passed the California state Senate that restricts Big Pharma gifts to medical professionals, with the goal of reducing conflicts of interest.

SB 790 severely restricts pharmaceutical companies from providing consulting fees, entertainment, flights, speaking fees, all of which can make the recipient beholden to the provider. The motives and potential conflicts of interest were not studied.

The measure was sponsored by California State Sen. Mike McGuire who cited a University of California, San Francisco study that found the perks make doctors two to three times more likely to prescribe costly brand-name drugs over generics.

That study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine last year.

Using the U.S. Open Payment database, established under the Sunshine Act, it matched Medicare prescribing with more than 276,000 doctors, using meals as the criteria.

They found when a generic drug was available for three cardiovascular drugs and one antidepressant, docs who received even one meal provided by industry, some of a value under $20, prescribed the brand- name drug.

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Another study published by Harvard Medical School came to the same conclusion – that Massachusetts doctors would prescribe a brand-name drug over a generic when there were gifts involved.

In the Mass study, among the 2,444 physicians in the Medicare database, more than one-third (36.8%) received industry payments in the form most commonly of company-sponsored meals.

The independent journalism group, ProPublica, also found, in the case of statins, a drug to treat high cholesterol, prescriptions increased by 0.1 percent for every $1,000 of industry-spend money.

Since statins cost anywhere from two to four times the cost of generics, those numbers can really add up for drug makers.

All of this is occurring at a time when the U.S. is trying to rein in the cost of prescription drugs.

Big Pharma says it provides value in speaking programs that promote physician education.

SB 790 limits the amount drug makers could spend on a meal to $250.

Massachusetts passed a similar bill in that state curtailing speaking fees and travel, but pressure from restaurants had that state loosening the meal restriction.

Minnesota and Vermont both cap gifts and food at $50 per year. Speaking fees are allowed but they must be “reasonable” and for “bonafide” educational purposes.

California physicians receive more pharmaceutical gifts and payments than doctors in any other state, according to the senator’s office, taking in $1.4 billion in 2014.

SB 790 is opposed by industry groups including PhRMA.

SB 790 will move to the California Assembly.

Learn More:

University of California San Francisco study on industry gifts.

JAMA May 2016, Harvard

ProPublica survey May, 2016

University of California, San Francisco, August 2016

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