More states consider bans on gifts to physicians

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Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal asked his state's legislature to prohibit gifts to physicians.

"We must stop improper impacts and influence of money on healthcare providers from the pharmaceutical drug companies," Blumenthal said in a statement. "Shocking recent disclosures about Merck's widespread ghost-writer reports - with payments to prestigious health care providers - vividly demonstrate the audacity of pharmaceutical drug company monetary influence."

Blumenthal's testimony follows a Massachusetts Senate vote banning gifts, and an ongoing debate in the California State Assembly. The California bill would prevent pharmaceutical companies from "offering or giving a gift…or combination of gifts that have a total value of more than $250 to a medical or health professional." That bill, if approved, would be effective July 1, 2009.

Members of the pharmaceutical industry have expressed bewilderment about state regulation of sales practices, citing International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations and PhRMA Codes, as well as obligatory compliance programs overseen by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).  All three of the aforementioned bodies forbid gifts to physicians that aren't intended for the benefit of patents' health. Only regulations set by the OIG, such as the anti-kickbacks statute and the False Claims Act are backed by criminal charges.

In a statement, Blumenthal listed several specific restrictions for the legislature to consider, such as prohibition on "any gifts, scholarships or other items in exchange for prescribing products," and "gifts to a healthcare provider for business use except for items of minimal value such as post-its, notepads, etc," among other recommendations.

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