Pharmaceutical Companies Give Up Gifts to Physicians

Published March 1, 2009

All “non-educational” gifts from pharmaceutical companies to doctors are now banned under an ethics policy adopted by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry trade organization.

The list of disallowed gifts includes pens, notepads, calendars, and other items. Drug samples are still permitted.

The voluntary policy was put in place ahead of the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, a federal proposal many pharmaceutical companies expect to be passed this year. The measure would establish a national registry of payments—including gifts—from drug companies to doctors.

In 2006 pharmaceutical companies spent more than $7 billion on promotional gifts to doctors and on other provider marketing efforts, according to numbers compiled by the research group IMS Health.

Impact Likely Negative

Experts say the ban will make little positive difference, and that its impact could actually be negative.

“What this ban overlooks is that pens, notepads, and the rest can be educational,” said Sarah Brodsky, a policy analyst at the Missouri-based Show Me Institute. “True, they don’t have a lot of statistics and side-effect warnings on them, but they call attention to a product so a doctor can investigate it further.”

Gifts Raise Awareness

“A doctor isn’t going to prescribe drugs that don’t work just because he got some free office supplies,” Brodsky said. “Gifts can spread awareness about a product and help prevent a situation in which a patient could have been helped by a drug but wasn’t because a physician didn’t know it was available.

“That sounds farfetched,” Brodsky continued, “but only because pharmaceutical companies do such a good job of putting their products in the spotlight, using advertisements, gifts, seminars, brochures, and other methods.”

The Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which would “amend title XI of the Social Security Act to provide for transparency in the relationship between physicians and manufacturers of drugs, devices, or medical supplies for which payment is made under Medicare, Medicaid, or SCHIP,” was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Health in March 2008 and introduced in the House of Representatives in 2007 and 2008. At press time it was expected to be reintroduced in the Senate early this year by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA).

Joe Emanuel ([email protected]) writes from Georgia.

For more information …

H.R. 5605, The Physician Payments Sunshine Act:

S. 2029, The Physician Payments Sunshine Act: