State Senate approves ban on gifts to physicians

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The Massachusetts State Senate has voted to ban all gifts to physicians from pharmaceutical companies. Bolstered by the Senate's unanimous decision, the gift ban will proceed to the House and Gov. Deval Patrick for final approval.

Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford), principal author of the of the gift ban provision, told the Boston Herald that gifts and illicit marketing are "compromising the doctor-patient relationship.”

Prior to the final vote in the state Senate, penalties for noncompliance were reduced to a fine of “not more than $5,000” for each violation; the original provision would have criminalized gifts and punished offenders with imprisonment for up to two years.

According to John Kamp, executive director at the Coalition for Healthcare Communication, the vote represents one more example of “conflict-of-interest hysteria” among government officials. “The current wave of anti-pharma hysteria – the idea that using a Pfizer pen could bring criminal charges – means good sense is flying out the window.”

Kamp also pointed out that PhRMA's self-regulatory code already prohibits any gifts to physicians that aren't directly intended for the benefit of patients.

"The bill, if passed, would be a disaster to the biotech industry of Massachusetts, and have devastating effects on the research institutions that make Boston the largest healthcare economy in the country," said Thomas Sullivan, president of the Rockpointe Corporation, a medical communications company. "We estimate that this bill could disqualify as many as 20% of our faculty, as the ban covers all honorarium and travel...we would have no way to pay speakers from Massachusetts to travel to events, and no way to pay them for their time."

Sullivan noted that at least one state - North Carolina - is planning an advertising campaign to attract biotech companies and academic group practices in the Boston area, should they decide to relocate if the bill passes.

The Massachusetts gift ban would restrict marketing and sales practices to an unprecedented degree in comparison with other state laws. Minnesota and Vermont are the only other states with mandatory physician gift reporting laws.

In Minnesota, gifts in excess of $50 have been banned, while in Vermont, laws require pharmaceutical company representatives to disclose the dollar value of gifts over $25.

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