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Mass. Gov. Takes Bite Out of Medical Gifts Ban

Gov. Deval Patrick Takes Bite Out of Medical Gifts Ban [Boston Herald]

From Boston Herald (MA) (July 7, 2012)

July 07--Gov. Deval Patrick plans to flip-flop tomorrow on a tough 4-year-old gift ban by agreeing to allow medical device and drug companies to pay for "modest meals and refreshments" connected with "educational" presentations for doctors -- a step one prominent physician lambasted as "absurd."

"Doctors can’t buy their own meals?" said Dr. Marcia Angell, senior lecturer in social medicine at Harvard Medical School and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine. "These are companies with an interest in promoting their drugs; they’re not educational institutions. If you are seeking education, you pay the teacher, not the other way around."

In a letter released yesterday by the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the organization charged with administering the governor’s $1 billion life sciences initiative, Patrick said the changes to the 2008 ban are consistent with the "widely accepted" national standard. "This narrow change will afford health-care providers some flexibility to be educated on new, clinically relevant products and allow them to stay informed on advancements ... that benefit patients and lower our health-care costs," he wrote, adding that companies must report meal expenses associated with such presentations quarterly to the state Department of Public Health.

But members of the American Medical Student Association PharmFree Campaign to whom Patrick was responding in his letter said Patrick is gutting the once-tough law by aligning it with the lowest standard for conflicts of interest and allowing gifts for the medical profession that actually add to the price of drugs and medical devices.

"The evidence the governor doesn’t cite is that interactions with marketing reps has the exact effect the companies want, which is the prescription of newer and more expensive treatments that aren’t necessarily better," said David Tian, a fourth-year Harvard Medical School student and national chairman of the AMSA PharmFree Campaign.

A spokeswoman for Patrick, who has struggled mightily to try to rein in the high cost of health care since taking office, would not take questions about the change, which will be part of tomorrow’s $32.5 billion budget signing, referring questions to the Life Sciences Center.

Susan Windham-Bannister, the center’s president, said DPH will determine which meals and refreshments qualify as "modest."

"The quarterly reporting provides a very solid way for there to be monitoring of how these meals are used and what kinds of presentations are made," she said.

But Tom Sommer, president of the Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council, said the budget language actually eliminates the need for medtech companies to report to the state any information already disclosed pursuant to federal law.

"Medtech companies can now train doctors, nurses and technicians on new and innovative medical devices before a sales agreement is in place," Sommer said.

Earlier this week, a federal case against GlaxoSmithKline that netted a record $3 billion health-care fraud settlement cited just such "training" gifts to doctors as a major problem.


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Posted: July 2012