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EDITORIAL: Strong Medicine [Boston Herald]

From Boston Herald (MA) (April 29, 2011)

April 29--A few years back Beacon Hill cut off its nose to spite its face, when the Legislature enacted and Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law the toughest-in-the-nation ban on "gifts" from drug companies to health care providers. The House in its budget deliberations this week has voted to repeal the ban, and the Senate should do the same.

When the law took effect in 2009 the alarmists on Beacon Hill were still living in the bad old days, of drug reps trying to buy off doctors and hospitals with international golf outings or lavish meals. And with patients examining their growing insurance bills with a sharper eye, it wasn't too tough a sell.

Rarely mentioned during the debate was the fact that the industry had already adopted a strict new code of conduct -- supported by all the major drug manufacturers -- to guide interactions between drug company reps and doctors. Golf outings and theater tickets -- even Post-it notes and coffee mugs -- were out; pizza in the conference room for an info session was OK. Meanwhile many hospitals have adopted gift ban policies of their own -- without the Legislature mandating that they do so.

But our reps and senators insisted we were all being held hostage by Big Pharma so they employed the scorched-earth strategy -- tossing in medical device makers for good measure. Now the ban in Massachusetts has driven away a pair of major medical conventions and stands as a symbol of this state's less-than-friendly attitude toward an industry that millions rely on for life-saving treatments and cures and many Bay Staters rely on for jobs.

As long as the industry actually enforces its own guidelines, which largely echo the Massachusetts law, a repeal in a way is symbolic. But given that our current symbol is a rolled-up welcome mat, it's an important one.

In the end, we dislike laws that are enacted mostly to make lawmakers feel good about themselves. Lawmakers sold the gift ban as a way to control health care costs by cutting back on the prescribing of expensive brand-name drugs. If they can't provide evidence that it has had that effect, they should repeal the ban.


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Posted: April 2011