Big Pharma, Your Physician & The Sunshine Act

April 3, 2012 at 12:16

Little Miss Sicky Poo

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There is probably nothing more irritating then sitting in a doctor’s office for 45 minutes, waiting to be seen.  But have you ever noticed, while you are sitting there reading that two year old copy of Reader’s Digest, that there are usually a few individuals that walk right in and get seen by YOUR doctor immediately? They are usually very well dressed.  Some of them even carry brief cases.  These people are pharmaceutical reps and they command the attention of your physician.

Perhaps you are asking yourself, why should I care?  Well, there are a couple of reasons.  The primary goal of these pharmaceutical reps is to sell product.  They offer financial incentives to prescribe their products and thus line their pockets and inflate the company’s bottom line.  This can very easily become a conflict of interest when talking about the best interest of the patient.  In fact, a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), compared multiple studies conducted on the relationship between “transfers of value” and prescribing behavior.  The research showed that gifts, meals and samples caused physicians to recommend or favor certain drugs.  The result to you, the patient is the inflated cost of drugs and devices.

In addition to increased drug costs, there is a higher cost.  This is the issue of Big Pharma’s strong hold on our healthcare and our overwhelming pill popping mentality as a modern society.  We have become conditioned to believe that the solution to every ailment is a prescription drug.  It has been a rare occurrence, in my experience, that I meet a physician that is willing to entertain natural methods of healing before prescribing a synthetic drug.  I think this signals a problem.

The Physician Payment Sunshine Act of 2012:
Enter the affectionately named, “Sunshine Act.”  The Physician Payment Sunshine Act of 2012 was introduced by U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Herb Kohl (D-WI).  This was done in an effort to create transparency in the relationship between physicians and pharmaceutical, medical device, biological and medical supply manufacturers.

Basically the bill requires manufacturers to disclose to Health and Human Services (HHS), any “payment or transfer of value” to physicians and teaching hospitals.  The information is then posted on a public website so that, you, the consumer can see exactly how much money your physician is being paid by pharmaceutical companies.

The bill was signed into law in March 2010 and went into effect in the beginning of 2012.  The penalties of non-compliance are steep.  A physician can be fined $10,000 for each transfer of value that is unknowingly not reported, not to exceed $150,000 annually.  However, for transfers of value that are knowingly failed to be reported, fines can reach up to $100,000 per infraction, not to exceed $1 million annually.

There is a virulent debate going on about efficacy and the possible negative impacts of this bill.  For example, back in February of this year, two op-ed pieces came out within days of each other.  One, by a Harvard Medical School physician, in clear opposition of the bill entitled “Who Paid for Your Doctor’s Bagel”. Two days later the Huffington Post ran a piece called “The Million Dollar Bagel: Harvard Doctor Fights Back”.  The article exposed the doctor for his involvement in a recent scandal as one of three physicians that had failed to report over $1 million dollars in payments received from various drug companies.

My Thoughts on The Bill:
I am not really an advocate of creating legislation for every issue that we encounter as a nation.  I often feel that it is a replacement for common sense and good judgment.  And this is not a political blog, so I will leave my political affiliations aside.   But I found this bill very interesting and I wanted to share it with you.  I don’t argue for or against it but I believe that its creation is indicative of the inherent problems in our modern healthcare system.  The act only confronts one aspect of these problems, but I for one, am glad to see that these issues are being brought into public scrutiny.  Perhaps the awareness and vigilance will increase with time and expose the other areas that need attention thus creating a truly healthier nation. I for one will definitely be trying to increase that awareness.

Resources

  1.  A Study about Physician Prescribing Behavior by the Journal of the Medical American Medical Association: http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/283/3/373.full.pdf
  2. The Bill: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-111s301is/pdf/BILLS-111s301is.pdf

 

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