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24-09-2012 | Article

Pharma companies allowed to wine and dine Mass. doctors again


Regulation text

medwireNews: Doctors can once again eat, drink, and be (modestly) merry on the pharmaceutical industry's dime, at least in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The state's Public Health Council (PHC) has approved emergency regulations that lift earlier restrictions on meals provided to physicians by drug companies or medical device manufacturers.

A 2008 "marketing code of conduct" law in Massachusetts had banned pharmaceutical and medical device marketers from giving physicians free restaurant meals, trips, or tickets to concerts or sporting events. Under the law, companies could only make presentations accompanied by meals if they were given in a hospital or physicians' offices

The new regulations say that companies "may provide or provide payment for modest meals and refreshments to healthcare practitioners outside of the healthcare practitioner's office or hospital setting for the purpose of educating and informing healthcare practitioners about the benefits, risks and appropriate uses of prescription drugs or medical devices, disease states or other scientific information, provided that such presentations occur in a venue and manner conducive to informational communication."

The regulations do not stipulate a dollar limit, saying instead that meals be modest by local standards, and similar to what providers might pay themselves if they were eating out.

A member of the PHC, Alan Woodward, said that the final regulations should make it clear that free meal sessions have "valid educational content" and are not "an open door for marketing.

The move drew criticism from the Boston-based consumer advocacy group Health Care for All, which has vowed to reverse the ruling, according to The Boston Globe.

The American Medical Association holds that "any gifts accepted by physicians individually should primarily entail a benefit to patients and should not be of substantial value. Accordingly, textbooks, modest meals, and other gifts are appropriate if they serve a genuine educational function."

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 contains provision for a "Physician Payments Sunshine Act" that requires drug and medical companies to report publicly gifts and payments made to physicians and to academic medical centers. According to the Pew Health Group - part of the Pew Charitable Trusts - Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, Vermont, and the District of Columbia have disclosure laws similar to the federal law in place.

Despite the passage of the law, however; the US Department of Health and Human Services has yet to issue final regulations governing disclosure of gifts to providers and hospitals, Pew's Daniel Carlat said in testimony before the US Senate Special Committee on Aging.

By Neil Osterweil, medwireNews reporter