At the Colorado Health Insurance Insider, we’ve made our position on the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and health care providers very clear. When pharmaceutical companies provide tangible benefits to doctors, hospitals, and universities, the lines between objectivity and bias become very blurred. And for patients without health insurance, or with high deductible health plans, it’s even more frustrating to know that some of the money they’re paying for their high-priced medications is being used to pay for doctors to go to conferences in places like the Virgin Islands and San Diego.
So it’s nice to see that lawmakers are moving forward on a bill to require pharmaceutical and medical device companies to disclose payments and financial perks given to doctors. Eli Lilly and Co stands out from the rest of the pharmaceutical industry in supporting the bill, although they did convince lawmakers to raise the amount requiring disclosure from $25 to $500. That’s too bad, because $499 is a pretty sweet gift. It will pay for a great dinner or a round of golf and some good scotch afterwards. It will cover most of a plane ticket to a destination within the US. And yet it still would not need to be disclosed.
The legislation doesn’t limit payments to doctors; it simply requires that they be reported. Of course, I doubt the disclosure will be in the form of a big sign in your doctor’s office saying how much money she’s gotten from each of the major drug companies. Most likely, the data will be on file in some government office, available upon rare request. I suppose it could be used by the IRS to make sure that doctors report the value of the gifts and incentives they receive from pharmaceutical companies. But most likely, this bill will just create more bureaucratic paperwork, and have little impact on the actual behavior of pharmaceutical companies and health care providers.
It’s interesting also to note that the bill doesn’t require the reporting to start until the spring of 2011. Does it really take three years to start keeping track of money and gifts that you give out? This isn’t a program that requires lots of new infrastructure or extensive training of personnel. If lawmakers are serious about limiting the bias that is created when drug companies and medical suppliers give high-priced gifts to medical providers, it seems that they could do more to curb the practice rather than just disclose it, and implement whatever program they come up with a whole lot sooner than 2011.