Drug Law Aims to Curb Marketers’ Gifts to Doctors

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(Host) The nation’s pharmaceutical industry says it won’t challenge Vermont’s new drug law in court. The law, which goes into effect on July 1, requires drug salespeople to report how much they spend to influence doctors to use their products. It’s the only reporting provision of its kind in the country.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Late last week, Governor Howard Dean signed legislation that is designed to help lower the cost of prescription drugs. The bill creates a multi-state buying pool for drugs; it expands the list of preferred drugs used by the state; and it requires all drug salespeople to file expense reports with the Secretary of State’s office if they spend more than $25 trying to convince doctors to prescribe their products. The reporting requirement was added to the bill after lawmakers received testimony that some drug companies were paying for special vacation trips for some doctors and their families.

When this law goes into effect on July 1, Vermont will be the only state in the country to have this kind of reporting requirement. PHARMA is the national drug industry’s organization located in Washington D.C. PHARMA spokesperson Jeff Truitt says his group will not challenge this provision in court because the drug industry has just adopted new guidelines of its own. But Truitt says Vermont’s reporting provision is a waste of everyone’s time because most drug salespeople are not spending a lot of money trying to influence doctors:

(Truitt) “In the vast majority of cases you’re talking about five- to fifteen-minute meetings in doctors’ offices and quite often the sales rep is lucky to get a cup of coffee or something else. What is quite common is that a sales representative will visit the health care professionals at a medical clinic durng the lunch hour for 30 to 45 minutes and well within the guidelines they’ll bring in hoagie sandwiches and pizza pies and sit and talk about a medicine and its potential value and its technical characteristics.”

(Kinzel) Truitt says the new industry guidelines also prohibit drug companies from reimbursing doctors for any expenses incurred at medical seminars unless the doctor is a speaker at the seminar.

Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, who was the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate, says the claims by PHARMA are difficult to believe because a recent study shows that the drug industry spends an average of $22,000 a year per doctor in their direct marketing campaign to physicians:

(Shumlin) “If PHARMA is going to try to convince Vermonters that all they’re doing is buying a pizza pie or a hoagie for doctors, they ought to be up here selling some of our old bridges we want to get rid of. I’ve heard them make some really outrageous comments over the years about research and development and the rest, but this one tops them all. If that’s all they are doing, why did PHARMA work so hard to kill this provision?”

(Kinzel) Shumlin says a number of other states have inquired about Vermont’s reporting provisions and he says it’s likely that the Vermont law will serve as a model for these other states.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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