Merck discloses a portion of US speaker fees

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Merck disclosed fees paid to US-based medical and scientific professionals who spoke at promotional medical education programs during the third quarter of 2009.

The first disclosure includes payments made to 1,078 patients between July 1, 2009 and September 30, 2009. Speakers during that period were paid an average of $1,548 per engagement, and participated in two engagements on average, according to the announcement. The company will disclose payments for the third and fourth quarters of 2009 in early 2010, at www.merck.com/speakerpayments.

Ron Rogers, a spokesperson for Merck, said the disclosures were mostly confined to speakers participating in Merck Medical Forums – about 99% of the disclosed fees went to Forum speakers – though the company is “working toward the goal” of broader disclosures that include clinical trials and outside consultants, said Rogers. Merck Medical Forums are promotional medical education programs, and do not offer CME credits.

Rogers said Merck supports the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, which, if passed, would mandate full disclosure of nearly all fees paid to physicians. “We're looking forward to a time when companies are comparing apples to apples” in terms of payment disclosures, said Rogers, adding that if the Sunshine Act doesn't pass, Merck will enact congruent disclosure policies internally.

The Sunshine Act will most likely be a part of the final healthcare reform bill, and would require drug and device manufacturers to publicly disclose payments to physicians, although the extent of the disclosures varies from the House to the Senate.

In September, the Wall Street Journal reported that Merck and Schering-Plough, makers of the cholesterol drug Vytorin, had spent roughly $60 million over four years on classes for doctors about heart disease practices and treatment options.  

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