Dollars for Docs: Yale Has Strong Ties With Drug Research Industry
Dollars for Docs: Yale Has Strong Ties With Drug Research Industry [New Haven Register, Conn.]
From New Haven Register (CT) (March 11, 2013)
March 11--Starting next year, health care consumers will get a new window into spending by drug makers as well as medical device and supply producers, and an early glimpse at data reveals Yale University’s large presence in the pharmaceutical research sector.
Eleven of the 15 largest research payments made by drug makers that were included in a data compilation by ProPublica went to either Yale, its medical school or individuals affiliated with the university.
From 2010 to 2012, four pharmaceutical companies -- Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Merck and AstraZeneca -- paid $5.77 million to Yale, its medical school and individuals affiliated with it to do research.
As part of healthcare reforms championed by the Obama Administration, companies will be required under the Physician Payment Sunshine Act to report payments or things of value that they have given to physicians and teaching hospitals. That includes speaking and consulting fees as well as meals and trips.
Companies must begin collecting the information in August of this year. The data from August through the end of December of this year will then be released in April 2014 on website being developed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a division of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, said Marjorie Powell, senior assistant general counsel for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).
In advance of that launch, ProPublica has developed a website chronicling information it gathered from 15 drug companies that represented about 47 percent of drug sales in the United State during 2011. The "Dollars For Docs" website, accessible below, is a searchable database with more then 2 million records detailing $2 billion in payments made to healthcare professionals nationwide.
The Dollars for Docs database is searchable by doctor, company, city and state, with payments are categorized by type: consulting, research, speaking, meals and other categories. It will mirror many of the features that are expected to be found on the CMS web site next spring.
John Thomas, a Quinnipiac Law School professor who teaches classes on law and medicine, said the public benefits from having more knowledge about how the health care business operates behind-the-scenes.
"There have been some dramatic examples in the past in which it looked the payment of funds by a pharmaceutical company have influenced research and opinions about a drug that is being developed," Thomas said.
He cited the example of the arthritis and pain relief drug Vioxx, which was pulled from the market in September 2004 by New Jersey-based pharmaceutical giant Merck after a new study had found a higher rate of heart attacks and strokes in patients taking the drug than in those on a placebo. The drug had been on the market for more than five years and was being taken by more than 2 million Americans at the time it was being pulled from the market.
Thomas said that while he’s not convinced that large numbers of consumers will use the database in deciding which physician to use, the information is valuable for other reasons.
"I do think managed care organizations will be very cognizant of how the money is being spent," Thomas said. "Some already keep track of that."
And some drug makers already make information about the money they spend public.
Scott MacGregor, a spokesman for Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, said the drug maker was the first in the industry to launch a physician payment registry in 2009. The company expanded the information included in its registry in 2011.
MacGregor said the bulk of the company spending that is listed on the registry -- 84 percent -- goes toward research of new drugs.
Pfizer, which has a significant presence in Connecticut, also publicly discloses its spending, a practice it began in 2010, said Sharon Castillo, a company spokeswoman.
Pfizer discloses payments to:
-- All licensed U.S. health care professionals who can prescribe medicines, including physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Castillo said Pfizer’s current reporting in this regard already goes further than what will be required under the Physician Payment Sunshine Act.
-- Major U.S. institutions for ongoing clinical trials sponsored by Pfizer.
-- Professional advising.
-- Expert-led forums.
-- Research, including clinical trials and investigator-initiated research.
-- Meals, business travel expenses and educational items that are greater than or equal to $10 in value.
Powell said about 20 companies are already reporting information similar to what will be called for in the Physician Payment Sunshine Act.
"But there a couple hundred bio-pharmaceutical companies that don’t do this kind of reporting," she said.
PhRMA and its members believe that the act will give the public a better idea of how the drug-making process works, Powell said.
"We get a sense that most people don’t have any understanding of how complex a process it is," she said. "It’s only because physicians and patients that participate in research studies are will to give of their time that we are able to do the trials necessary to develop new drugs."
Doctors also represent gatekeepers once a new drug receives approval from the Food and Drug Administration to be made available to the public. Powell said the public needs to understand how important it is for doctors to understand how an individual drug works, what types of patients may benefit from them and which ones could be hurt by them.
For the data gathered for the Physician Payment Sunshine Act to truly be useful to the public, Powell said the CMS web site and the media need to provide context to go along with the numbers.
"Without the context, people will see the dollars, but they won’t understand what it means," she said. "There is a relationship behind the dollars that without context and descriptions could get lost."
Call Luther Turmelle at 203-789-5706.
(c)2013 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)
Visit the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.) at www.nhregister.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Posted: March 2013