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Rx Model Bill to Limit Drug Industry Marketing Enacted in Vermont

Vermont lawmakers enacted the nation's strongest measure limiting the drug industry's marketing influence over physicians.  The bill, S 48, bans gifts from the industry to physicians, including meals and travel, and requires unprecedented disclosure and transparency of relations between the industry and providers.  Said Sharon Treat, Director of the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices (NLARx) and Maine State Representative, "Vermont now joins Minnesota and Massachusetts in tackling head-on the pervasive influence of payments and gifts on medical practitioners through a ban on many gifts.

As we have written, the drug industry spends $7 billion directly influencing the prescribing decisions of physicians through catered lunches, "educational" conferences, and other gifts - driving up health care costs in the process. Studies show that even small gifts create an unconscious "demand for reciprocity."  Vermont's attorney general reported that physicians received an average $3 million in gifts from drug companies over the past three years.  Compounding this inappropriate influence over physicians' prescribing decisions is the fact that the industry habitually markets the most expensive drugs over medicines that are cheaper and often equally or more effective, as the New York Times reported in 2007. This drives-up costs for state Medicaid programs, families, businesses, and private insurance.

The new Vermont law, which NLARx says sets a "nationally significant standard," bans all gifts from manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and biologic products, with few exceptions.  For allowable gifts, such as payments for speaking, consulting, or research, the law includes strict reporting and public disclosure, reports the New England Journal of Medicine. Starting in 2011, Vermont will publish the disclosures through a searchable website.

The Federal Physicians Payment Sunshine Act, designed to bring greater public review of these relationships, has been reintroduced in 2009.  As NLARx's Treat says, legislators should contact their congressional delegation to be sure the law does not preempt stricter state disclosure and gift limit laws like Vermont's.

Resources:
NLARx - Policy Resources, Advertising & Marketing
Progressive States Network - Stop the Corruption of Industry Gifts to Providers
The Prescription Project — Survey finds Americans want to know about physician payments
The Prescription Project — Control Pharmaceutical Marketing to Improve Health Care Quality and Cost: Recommendations for State Policymakers
The Prescription Project — Regulating Industry Payments to Physicians: Identifying and Minimizing Conflicts of Interest