Senator probes WebMD on depression test

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Citing concerns about the firm's independence, Charles Grassley, the Republican senator, has made WebMD a focus of his expanding investigation.

The senator wrote WebMD CEO Wayne Gattinella, requesting records pertaining to a TV ad, which encourages viewers to visit WebMD's website and take a depression screening test sponsored by Eli Lilly.

In a statement, WebMD said: “We have responded to Senator Grassley's letter. We believe that the controls that WebMD has in place assure the editorial integrity of the information that we provide.”

“I'm told we did receive a response from WebMD, and we're reviewing it,” said Jill Gerber, the senator's press secretary. She declined to comment on the response.

Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, wrote in late February, “I am concerned about the independence between WebMD and industry since many people access WebMD seeing it as an independent, objective medical resource.”

He asked for copies of all communications and contracts associated with the screening test's creation, and an explanation of WebMD's policies for top executives, directors and physicians to disclose outside income. Grassley requested any actual disclosures of outside income filed with the firm and an accounting of WebMD industry funding from pharma, device and insurance companies dating back two years.

The WebMD screening test asks 10 questions designed to assess a patient's depression risk. A note mentions that Eli Lilly provided funding, and an online ad for Lilly's Cymbalta depression drug appears to the side.
 Grassley “just wants to be sure that consumers are aware of who's funding and sponsoring these kinds of features,” Gerber said. The letter continues a string of inquiries Grassley has made over the last three years regarding consulting and industry funding for CME.
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