News Release

Groups Oppose Big Pharma Plans

Senator Mark Montigny, Health Care For All, MASSPIRG, AARP Urge Preservation of the Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Gift Ban
For Immediate Release

BOSTON – Calling on legislators to oppose any attempt to weaken or repeal the Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Gift Ban, Senator Mark Montigny joined Health Care For All, AARP, and MASSPIRG in highlighting the Gift Ban’s effectiveness in limiting questionable marketing practices by the industry sales reps in efforts to influence the prescribing behaviors of physicians. 

“Nothing should come between the patients and their physicians.  In order for patients to have confidence in our health care system, they need to know that the treatment plan recommended by their doctors were not influenced by fancy dinners or gifts,” said Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, Executive Director of Health Care For All, “Repealing or weakening our state’s gift ban law would not only increase health care costs, but also put relationships between doctors and their patients in jeopardy.”

Senator Mark Montigny expressed a theory for the industry’s intense drive to repeal the law, saying, “The conclusion of every study evaluating the gift ban has been absolutely clear,” said the ban’s original author Senator Mark Montigny.  “Corporations don’t spend billions of dollars each year unless they’re getting something in return.  Bribing some health care provider leads to sales and pads bottom lines.  For consumers the equation is simple: cut out the industry cheerleaders, rely on science and the expertise of doctors, and watch your premiums fall.”

Included in health care cost containment legislation passed in 2008, the Gift Ban prevents the pharmaceutical and medical device industry sales reps from wining and dining doctors at high-end restaurants or showering them with gifts such as box seats at Fenway Park.  The Gift Ban does not outlaw all contact between sales reps and physicians – doctors are still free to work with the industry toward innovation and attend educational meetings, with meals so long as such meetings occur within the hospital settings. 

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 60% of those surveyed thought “promotions don’t influence my practice” but only 16% believed the same about other physicians. This intra-profession perception may explain why more and more academic institutions have establishing their own policies on interactions with industry representatives, despite the repeal and weakening efforts.

Anthony Schlaff, MD, Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at Tufts Medical Center said, “As a clinician, I am indebted to the pharmaceutical industry for the incredible array of pharmacological tools I have access to.  I am not indebted to them because of personal favors or gifts.  Were I so inclined, I should not be allowed to compromise my integrity in that way.” 

The current efforts to weaken or repeal the Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Gift Ban is not led by physicians or patients, but by the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, with drug and device companies lurking in the shadows not far behind. 

Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director for MASSPIRG, said that Massachusetts banned Big Pharma 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 the Legislature should be considering is repealing or weakening this ban.”
The restaurant association claims that the limits imposed on the wining and dining of physicians has cut into their profit margins.  Although restaurant receipts were down in 2008 and 2009, so were sales in virtually every industry because of the global economic recession.  As we emerge from one of the largest economic crises in history, restaurants have seen their business pick back up.  In fact, according to data released by the Department of Revenue last month, restaurants are on track to have their best year ever in 2011.

Additionally, opponents of the Gift Ban have said it hurts biotech convention businesses and prevents the industry from doing business in Massachusetts.  However, the facts show that these predictions have not come to pass.  In 2011 alone, more than 40 medical-related conventions have been held or are scheduled to take place in Massachusetts.  The BIO International Convention, the industry’s largest convention, will be coming back to Boston in 2012 with its organizers about to sign a contract guaranteeing its return on a rotating basis.  And just last week, Pfizer executives announced a $100 million expansion of their operations in Boston.

Consumer protection advocates urged lawmakers to view the Gift Ban opponents with healthy skepticism.  “Massachusetts consumers should not be expected to pay for fancy, free lunches that drug companies feed prescribers – especially when so many people, including seniors, can barely afford the health coverage they need,” said Deborah Banda, state director of AARP Massachusetts, which represents more than 800,000 members age 50 and older in the Bay State.  “The state’s prescription drug and medical device gift ban law is one tool to help rein in costs.  No evidence exists that the law is hurting other industries – such as restaurants or convention centers.  But, we know for sure that consumers are struggling to afford the medicine they need to stay healthy and out of more expensive care.”

Following the press conference, advocates planned to attend the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business‘s public hearing on SB1849, one of the industry’s vehicles for weakening the law. MASSPIRG's testimony can be found here.

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About MASSPIRG
MASSPIRG is an advocate for the public interest. When consumers are cheated or the voices of ordinary citizens are drowned out by special interest lobbyists, MASSPIRG speaks up and takes action. We uncover threats to public health and well-being and fight to end them, using the time-tested tools of investigative research, media exposés, grassroots organizing, advocacy and litigation. MASSPIRG's mission is to deliver persistent, result-oriented public interest activism that protects consumers, encourages a fair, sustainable economy, and fosters responsive, democratic government. www.masspirg.org

About Health Care For All
HCFA seeks to create a consumer-centered health care system that provides comprehensive, affordable, accessible, culturally competent, high quality care and consumer education for everyone, especially the most vulnerable. We work to achieve this as leaders in public policy, advocacy, education and service to consumers in Massachusetts. For more information about HCFA, call 617-275-2915 or visit www.hcfama.org.

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