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Possible Repeal of Massachusetts Ban: A Gift to Prescribers, Patients or Industry?

Posted Jul 24 2010 8:32am
Photo by Tony the Misfit via Flickr

Photo by Tony the Misfit via Flickr

Next month marks the second anniversary of the enactment of the Massachusetts Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Manufacturer Code of Conduct , a law requiring pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing companies to designate a compliance officer and implement a compliance program reflecting the commonwealth’s regulations on meals, CME sponsorship, use of non-patient identified prescriber data, gifts and other payments, etc.  The law, which went into effect on July 1, 2009,  builds upon the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America’s revised Code  on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals (” PhRMA Code “) and the Advanced Medical Technology Association’s revised Code of Ethics on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals (” AdvaMed Code “), two voluntary codes intended to eliminate any influence perceived or otherwise of the industry over healthcare professionals with respect to gifts, entertainment, recreation, educational programs, professional meetings, scholarships, and the like.

The Massachusetts law is more restrictive, however, than its PhRMA and AdvaMed counterparts.  It prohibits companies from sponsoring continuing medical education programs that do not meet Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education guidelines.  The PhRMA and AdvaMed Codes do not.  It prohibits any company employee from providing meals outside of a hospital or office setting.  The PhRMA Code only restricts sales representatives and their immediate supervisors to a hospital or office setting.  The AdvaMed Code does not impose any restrictions on the location of meals.

Furthermore, starting on July 1, 2010, the law requires companies to annually certify their compliance with commonwealth regulations and, among other things, to disclose any gifts or payments valued over $50 and given to anyone who can prescribe, purchase, or dispense drugs or devices.  Effectively, it’s a ban on all gifts to prescribers (and in so doing goes a step further than the PhRMA and AdvaMed Codes which make an exception for educational gifts).  Companies must also submit $2,000, payable to the commonwealth’s Department of Public Health, with each annual disclosure report.  Violations can result in penalties up to $5,000 per occurrence.  The first round of disclosures were due 16 days ago and covered activities for the July 1, 2009 to December 31, 2009 period.  Next year companies will be expected to report on their activities for the January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2010 period.  Or will they?

The Massachusetts House recently passed an economic development bill that repeals the disclosure requirement/gift ban (the bill also establishes a sales tax holiday and consolidates commonwealth economic agencies).  The Senate version of the bill does not include the repeal.  It’s a wait-and-see as to how the two chambers will work out the final bill through their conference committee.

Opponents of the gift ban claim it has adversely affected pharmaceutical clinical research as well as the restaurant and convention industries.  Almost two years ago, PhRMA Senior Vice President Ken Johnson expressed his disappointment over the law, saying:

[it is] very likely damaging for medical partnerships, clinical research and patients in Massachusetts….

Public disclosure of a pharmaceutical company’s arrangements with principal investigators of its clinical trials also could reveal sensitive, proprietary business information to a company’s competitors.  This could erode the independent decision-making of companies trying to bring science from research facilities to patient care setting….

The disclosure requirements subjects all of the physicians, academic institutions and hospitals involved in such trials to publicity in a form that may be difficult to understand and likely will generate unwanted and unnecessary public scrutiny.  This could make Massachusetts an unattractive place for academic scientists to live and work and for pharmaceutical research companies to do business.  Such a policy clearly is not in the best interest of public health and it flies in the face of the ongoing efforts to further cultivate the life sciences industry within Massachusetts.

Indeed, the Wall Street Journal and Boston Herald report that some medical groups either have threatened to take their annual meetings elsewhere or have actually done so in protest of the law.

Supporters of the law say otherwise.  Health Care For All, a Massachusetts-based advocacy organization, views banning gifts as a step in the right direction.  According to the organization :

[t]he pharmaceutical industry gives gifts to promote their drugs and make a higher profit.  Under the guise of promoting welfare for all, the industry maximizes their own revenue….

Experts living within the guidelines of the gift ban find that it is not interfering with their work or professional relationships according to Dr. David Coleman, Boston University School of Medicine.

‘The Massachusetts Gift Ban legislation is an important step in the process of reducing both biases in therapeutic decision-making and healthcare costs.  The Ban has not adversely impacted the important relationships of our physician-faculty with the pharmaceutical and device industries….’

Health Care For All also maintains there is no connection between the decrease in restaurant revenues and the law as:

[t]he Massachusetts Prescription Reform Coalition has researched the decrease in restaurant profits, and found sales are down across the country including in states a gift ban.   According to the trade paper, Restaurants & Institutions, sales at the nation’s top 100 independent restaurants were down 10% in 2009….

Massachusetts Senators, who recognize the value of the gift ban legislation, also see that these lost profits mirror similar recession-caused losses in the restaurant industry across the country.

Georgia Maheras, Private Market Policy Manager at the Massachusetts Prescription Reform Coalition , considers the current House bill to be a “ significant step backward ” in the fight to curb medical costs.

Massachusetts is not alone in attempting to reform pharmaceutical and medical device marketing practices.  Neighboring Vermont has a similar, and in fact more stringent, law which even allows the Attorney General’s office to track free samples given to physicians (though a reporter for the Times Argus, a Vermont newspaper, worries how a repeal in Massachusetts might have a ripple effect).  California, the District of Columbia, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, and West Virginia also have some form of a marketing code.  The federal government’s Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act includes the Physician Payment Sunshine Provision (”Provision”) requiring disclosure of payments made to physicians and teaching hospitals by manufacturers of products covered under Medicaid, Medicare, and SCHIP (click here to read a summary).

So who has it right?  It would seem as though PhRMA and AdvaMed opened the door for state and federal government to codify modified versions of these industry codes.  From a compliance perspective, it must be quite inefficient and headache inducing to wade through state marketing disclosure laws that lack uniformity.  Starting January 1, 2012, the Provision will preempt state disclosure laws except for where the state requires additional information.  Maybe this will help, maybe it will add to the headache, or maybe this particular episode will no longer matter.   For now, though, from a patient perspective, a repeal of the Massachusetts disclosure requirement/gift ban, or that of any other state, would feel more like a gift to the industry and prescribers than a service to the “best interest of public health.”

The Center for Health & Pharmacy Law & Policy here at Seton Hall Law has issued two white papers addressing these issues: Conflicts of Interest in Clinical Trial Recruitment & Enrollment: A Call for Increased Oversight ,” in which the Center proposes legal and policy changes to address conflicts of interest in the relationships between industry and doctors that can create unwarranted risks to trial participants and to the scientific integrity of research; and Drug and Device Promotion: Charting a Course for Policy Reform ,” in which the Center proposes legal and policy changes to address conflicts of interest in the relationship of medicine and industry– including the recommendation “that industry funding for continuing medical education should be phased out, and replaced by an educational process driven by physicians.”

The Center has also recommended “the adoption of federal legislation to ban the use of gifts, meals, and other perks to promote drugs and devices. The states have taken the lead to date–Massachusetts, California, Minnesota, and the District of Columbia have passed laws to limit or ban gifts and meals that are now routine in marketing practices. Concluding that industry self-regulation is not sufficient, the Center calls for national legislation to create uniform practices by industry and physicians. As urged by Professor Boozang, ‘the benefits of drugs and devices should drive promotion and physicians’ decision to prescribe, not a marketing model that depends on gifts and meals.’”

Obviously, the adoption of additional federal standards in this regard will lessen the ability of industry to pit one state against another and make compliance easier. The Physician Payment Sunshine Provision is a step in that direction, the Massachusetts development bill is a step back.

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