Testimony in Opposition SB 1849, An Act Relative to Restaurant Rejuvenation
Before Chairman Sal DiDomenico, Chairwoman Linda Dorcena Forry and members of the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business

My name is Deirdre Cummings and I am the legislative director for MASSPIRG, a non-partisan, non-profit, member supported consumer advocacy organization. We are here today to testify in opposition to SB1849, An Act Relative to Restaurant Rejuvenation, as it will lead to even higher health care costs.

The Prescription Drug and Medical Device Ban is an important consumer protection law aimed at driving down our highest-in-the-nation, spiraling health care costs by reining in the drug and medical device industries’ aggressive marketing tactics. Among other things, the law bans gifts and/or payments of more than $50, including restaurant meals and entertainment, to physicians and other prescribers, from drug and medical device companies.

As you know, and are struggling with right now, health care costs are out of control and rising considerably faster than almost every other household expense.

Rise in healthcare costs compared to the rise in costs of household expenses from 2003-2009
•    Healthcare costs outpaced the rise in the average electrical bill by 53.75%
•    Healthcare costs outpaced the rise in the average cost of rent by 134%
•    Healthcare costs outpaced the rise in the average cost of food by 134%
•    Healthcare costs outpaced the rise in the average cost of living by 196%
•    Healthcare costs outpaced the rise in the average cost of public transit by 278%

With just 11 words, the bill before you, SB 1849, will allow the prescription and medical device industry to treat prescribers to often fancy, elaborate and expensive restaurant meals. This, in turn, will lead to higher costs as health care consumers will not only have to pay for the meals, but also for increased sales of prescription drugs and medical devices that the industry is marketing.

Further, the very idea that health care consumers ought to be responsible for “rejuvenating” the restaurant industry is manifestly absurd. What next? Golf course rejuvenation, airline rejuvenation, travel and tourism rejuvenation? I like restaurants; my guess is we all do. But should health care consumers be responsible for their profitability?

The legislature banned the prescription and medical device industry from picking up the tab for wining and dining our doctors for good reason -- because we ultimately end up paying that bill in the form of more expensive, often unnecessary drugs. With our state already paying the highest health insurance premiums in the country, the very last thing this Legislature should be considering is weakening or repealing the ban.

As The Boston Globe recently editorialized, “...if wining and dining didn’t work, the drug industry wouldn’t spend $6 billion a year on direct marketing to physicians.”
The Drug Industry’s Aggressive Marketing

The pharmaceutical industry spends $29 billion annually to market their products, and over $6 billion annually marketing to physicians alone. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a staggering 94% of physicians receive meals and other payments from pharmaceutical companies. 

MASSPIRG supports the ban on gifts in order to eliminate the inappropriate influence that pharmaceutical companies have on prescribing decisions and the resulting cost and quality implications. Excessive pharmaceutical marketing practices contribute directly to rising health care costs. The cost of marketing is passed along in the price of prescription drugs.  Marketing also promotes prescribing of more expensive drugs in place of equally safe and effective lower cost drugs, which may be either other brand name drugs or generic drugs.

The provision of pharmaceutical gifts to providers also threatens quality of care.  Studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association show that physician prescribing is highly responsive to marketing. Gifts and financial incentives from pharmaceutical companies create conflicts of interests that interfere with the ability of health care providers to make prescribing decisions based only on the needs of their patient.

Recognizing the inappropriate influence of pharmaceutical gifts, Minnesota, Vermont, Maine, West Virginia and the District of Columbia have taken legislative action.  In Massachusetts, the Boston University School of Medicine’s Boston Medical Center and UMass Memorial Health Care have adopted conflict-of-interest policies that ban clinicians from accepting personal gifts and meals from pharmaceutical companies.

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