Senate Passes RX Drug Reform Measures

Media Contacts


(Boston) MASSPIRG praised the action of the Massachusetts Senate on Thursday April 17,  who adopted much needed prescription drug marketing reforms as part of the Senate President’s Health Care Cost Control Bill,  S. 2650, An Act to Promote Cost Containment, Transparency and Efficiency in the Delivery of Quality Health Care. Despite fierce opposition from drug company lobbyists, the senate voted 36-0 to curb rx company marketing by adopting a bill which includes a pharmaceutical gift ban and licensing requirement, and the adoption of an academic detailing program.  MASSPIRG commends the leadership of Senate President Murray, and Senators Moore and Montigny in protecting consumers from excessive, costly and sometimes dangerous influence of drug company marketers.

Pharmaceutical Gift Ban and Licensing

The pharmaceutical industry spends over $7 billion annually marketing to physicians.  A staggering 94% of physicians receive meals and other payments from pharmaceutical companies. The senate passed bill prohibits pharmaceutical and medical device companies from giving gifts to physicians.  The bill also requires all drug “detailers” working in the state to be licensed, which is critical to facilitating enforcement of the gift ban. 

Industry gifts contribute significantly to rising health care costs.  The cost of marketing is passed along in the price of prescription drugs.  Marketing also promotes prescribing of more expensive drugs in place of equally safe and effective lower cost drugs, which may be either other brand name drugs or generic drugs.  

Gifts also threaten quality of care.  Gifts and financial incentives from pharmaceutical companies create conflicts of interests that interfere with the ability of health care providers to make prescribing decisions based only on the needs of their patient. 

All gifts influence prescribing decisions.  Token gifts including company logos drive up name recognition and even small gifts create demands for reciprocity.  The pharmaceutical industry would not spend billions of dollars each year marketing to physicians if it didn’t increase sales. (Journal of the American Medical Association).

Recognizing the inappropriate influence of pharmaceutical gifts, Minnesota, Vermont, Maine, West Virginia and the District of Columbia have taken legislative action.  In Massachusetts, Boston University School of Medicine/Boston Medical Center and UMass Memorial Health Care recently announced new conflict-of-interest policies that ban clinicians from accepting personal gifts and meals from pharmaceutical companies.

Academic Detailing

The bill directs the Department of Public Health to establish an “academic detailing” program through which medical professionals would provide evidence-based, balanced information about the effectiveness, safety and costs of prescription drugs to physicians and other prescribers in face-to-face visits.  Currently, industry salespeople are the primary source of providers’ information about medications.  The result is inflated industry influence on prescribing.  Academic detailing is similar to pharmaceutical sales visits, except that the academic detailers do not promote a particular product.  Academic detailing promotes evidence-based medicine by providing prescribers with unbiased data rather than promotional information.

Academic detailing improves quality of care.  Academic detailers are medical professionals that provide physicians with unbiased data they need to make appropriate prescribing decisions, unlike pharmaceutical sales representatives that provide promotional information. 

Academic detailing programs also control costs.  Information from academic detailers help providers identify when less expensive but equally safe and effective drugs are available.  Savings of $8.3 billion would result if adults appropriately substituted generics for brand names. Research demonstrates that academic detailing programs can save two dollars for every dollar spent to implement such programs.

“The cost of prescription drugs is among the fastest growing segments of health care spending.  Between 2000 and 2007 the price many of the most commonly prescribed brand name drugs rose by nearly 50%, far exceeding inflation.  These rising costs result in higher health care premiums, threaten the stability of health care reform, and threaten people’s ability to access the medications that they need to maintain their health,” said Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director with MASSPIRG.