Pay Me Now Or Pay Me Later
Senator takes aim at drug company gifts to doctors
Senator John Marty wants to tighten Minnesota's ban on gifts by drug companies to physicians and other health practitioners. And, in what's perhaps the most controversial element of his bill, the Roseville Democrat wants to apply the same gift ban to medical device makers.
"This is the first state where we'd be trying seriously to bring in medical device manufacturers," Senator Marty told KARE Monday, " We're saying they can keep talking to doctors, in fact they can contract with doctors to do consulting and other work as long as it's not above the standard hourly wage of the doctor."
The medical device industry is expected to oppose Marty's bill when it's heard in committee March 19th at the Capitol. One industry spokesman told KARE there's a reason medical devices were left out of the original ban, because introducing those new technologies requires a close working relationship with the medical professionals who'll be implanting and monitoring them.
Marty said he's not attempting to interfere in that relationship, but to make sure there's no financial incentive for a physician to recommend a particular product.
"You can't give somebody a $10,000 gift for 5 hours of work when really what you're asking them to do is use your product," Marty said.
The existing law requires drug companies to report payments, honoraria or other compensation given to doctors with some exceptions for conferences and educational meetings, provided the company has no control over the content of those sessions.
The Park Nicollet Health Services system voluntarily instituted a system requiring full disclosure of any speaking engagements or paid consulting by staff members on behalf of companies in the health industry. To assure its patients about any possible conflicts of interest, Park Nicollet posts the information on its web site.
The original ban on gifts to doctors, on the books since 1993 in Minnesota, prohibits bestowing "any gift of value" to a practitioner. Marty's bill seeks to remove the "of value" part of the language, because he believes that leaves loopholes.
"One of my colleagues said in one of the hospitals every Wednesday is pizza day," Marty said, "The pharmaceutical guys would come in with pizza for the whole staff and they'd sit and talk for a couple of minutes."
Many hospitals around the nation are looking to remove the subtle influence of pharmaceutical company logos on a variety of promotional trinkets such as pens, coffee mugs, and note pads.
Last year, for example, SMDC Health System in Duluth launched the "Clean Sweep" initiative, with the goal of removing those items from exam rooms and other areas of its clinics and hospitals in the Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Dr. Kenneth Irons, the chief of community clinics for SMDC, said at the time, "We want our patients to know the quality of their health care is our number one concern."
The staff collected 18,718 logo-bearing knickknacks, including clipboards, clocks, pens, cups, calculators and stuffed animals. To drive the point home, Dr. Irons posed for photos with part of the haul from the purge.
"This shows people we're not in the pharmaceutical companies' back pockets," he said.
Dr. Cerra? Dr. Powell?