Patients rely on doctors to make impartial decisions about the most effective treatments for their conditions. In recent years, public advocates have agitated for restrictions on pharmaceutical companies gifts’ (e.g., meals, honoraria, or entertainment) to medical professionals on the grounds that they could unduly influence prescribing habits. In what seems like a fight against transparency, Pfizer (New York) sent employees to Connecticut’s capitol to protest a state bill that would restrict such gifts and require reporting.
The bill, SB-270, would require drugmakers to adopt a marketing code of compliance that, among other things, forbids them from buying meals for doctors at continuing-education events and from compensating doctors for attending such events. The bill also would require transparency in pharmaceutical companies’ interactions with healthcare providers. The General Assembly’s Public Health Committee has approved SB-270, and the bill awaits approval by the full Assembly.
In an interview with Connecticut newspaper The Day, Liz Power, a Pfizer spokeswoman, said the bill would hinder the relationship between doctors and the company’s field representatives, who provide “critical information about prescription medicines” to busy doctors. I don’t see how the bill would reduce sales representatives’ ability to convey information about their drugs. Surely they can do that without giving doctors gifts.
The employees who visited Hartford asserted that the bill would discourage drugmakers from doing business in the state. This claim might be grounded in Power’s statement to The Day that the bill would be expensive to implement. But the bill echoes the rules laid out in the Physician Payments Sunshine Act of 2009, which was signed into law in March 2010 as part of Congress’s healthcare-reform legislation. Indeed, Power told The Day that many of SB-270’s proposed regulations overlap with new federal requirements. As long as the reporting requirements and restrictions on gifts to doctors are part of federal law, it’s hard to see what Pfizer would gain by moving from Connecticut to, say, Utah.
By fighting what seems like a reasonable attempt to ensure transparency in relationships between doctors and drug companies, Pfizer ends up looking like it wants to use questionable techniques to persuade physicians to prescribe its drugs. I don’t see how the bill would cost the company a significant amount of money, especially if Pfizer will have to comply with similar federal rules anyway. For the same reason, I’m equally puzzled about how the bill could influence Pfizer to transfer jobs out of Connecticut.
So far, the company has not given clear explanations about how SB-270 would interfere unfairly with its operations or harm its bottom line. Unless the company makes a more convincing case, its resistance to the bill will seem like much ado about nothing.