MASSPIRG Testifies on Rx Drug Marketing bills Urges Committee to Support Bills that Rein in Healthcare Costs

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Boston—MASSPIRG testified today before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health on a handful of bills that would add to or work to decrease Massachusetts’ highest-in-the-nation healthcare costs. Specifically, MASSPIRG urged the committee to oppose two bills HB 1504, and HB 2903, “Restaurant Rejuvenation bills,” which would roll back the Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Disclosure and Gift Ban passed in 2008. In addition, MASSPIRG opposed SB1107, HB 2352, HB 2383, bills that would increase drug industry marketing tools by allowing the use of Rx Coupons. MASSPIRG urged the committee to support HB 3367, An Act to Reduce Healthcare Costs by Promoting Provider Education through Academic Detailing which would lower healthcare costs by providing an important counterbalance to the biased drug information presented by drug companies.

Prescription Drugs and Restaurants

The Prescription Drug and Medical Device Ban is an important consumer protection law aimed at driving down Massachusetts’ highest-in-the-nation, spiraling healthcare costs by reining in the drug and medical device industries’ aggressive marketing tactics. Among other things, the law bans gifts and/or payments of more than $50, including restaurant meals and entertainment, to physicians and other prescribers from drug and medical device companies.

HB 1504 and HB 2903 will allow the prescription and medical device industry to treat prescribers to often fancy, elaborate and expensive restaurant meals. In 2008 the legislature banned the prescription and medical device industry from picking up the tab for wining and dining our doctors for good reason—because we ultimately end up paying that bill in the form of more expensive and often unnecessary drugs. “With our state already paying the highest health insurance premiums in the country, the very last thing this Legislature ought to be considering is weakening the ban, said Deirdre Cummings, legislative director for MASSPIRG.

Opposition to Rx Drug Coupons

MASSPIRG urged the committee to oppose HB 2352, HB 2383, and SB 1107, all bills to allow drug companies to use another tried and true marketing tactic, coupons, to increase their sale of certain drugs.
The way the coupon gimmick works is this: drug companies hand out coupons for its newest, priciest drugs to doctors and patients. Consumers then fill their prescriptions with these coupons, thinking they’re getting a bargain. Now your prescription is for an expensive drug — and even if the consumer is not paying the full sticker price, their insurance company is. As a result, premiums rise as they cover the new costlier drug.

With each new gimmick, the cost of the whole healthcare system goes up, without making anybody healthier. If we want to get serious about a healthcare system that works for consumers, we need to prevent these kinds of gimmicks. In fact, drug coupons are not allowed in either the Medicare or Medicaid programs.

Non-biased Drug Information

Finally, MASSPIRG urged the committee to support HB 3367, An Act to Reduce Healthcare Costs by Promoting Provider Education through Academic Detailing, as an important counterbalance to the aggressive marketing strategies of Big Pharma. This bill codifies the current Academic Detailing program being run out of the Department of Public Health.

The program uses the marketing strategy of drug “detailing” without promoting the bias of a specific manufacturer. Instead, independent medical professionals present non-biased drug and treatment information, including health outcomes and cost-effectiveness, to better inform prescribers.