Senators probing CME knock on ACCME’s door

The Senate Finance Committee, which has been investigating pharmaceutical companies over CME grants, has turned its attention to the group that accredits providers. The Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) received a letter from Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Max Baucus (D-Montana), who at the time of the letter (Dec. 19) were committee chairman and ranking Democrat, respectively. ACCME has two weeks left to respond to their requests for information on the accreditation system’s oversight of commercial support, management of commercial support by accredited providers and the requirements of the ACCME’s Standards for Commercial Support (SCS). The letter specifically addresses “marketing practices that increase the rates at which drugs are prescribed for off-label uses,” stating, “A substantial potential for abuse arises when pharmaceutical manufacturers use CME providers to deliver promotional messages that the law prohibits the companies from making directly.” “The ACCME looks forward to preparing a response,” the group said in a statement. However, some of the senators’ 12 information requests will be hard to comply with. Among other things, the senators ask ACCME to divulge the number or percentage of industry-funded CME activities that discussed off-label use of the sponsor’s drug over a three-year period. As of 2004, off-label use disclosure was no longer a requirement in SCS. The ACCME declined a request from MM&M to comment until after it responds to the letter. The communiqué is Grassley’s latest as part of the CME probe—his last was sent a year ago to about two dozen drug firms asking for information on CME grants. There has been no public enforcement as a result of the inquiry. It’s also one of his last acts as chairman; Congress reconvened in January with Baucus at the helm of the influential committee. Baucus has not commented on his agenda, which could diverge from Grassley’s. The finance committee is responsible for overseeing proper administration of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and Baucus is said to be more interested in reimbursement issues.