The state of give and take

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State legislators are continuing to forge ahead with measures to stop pharma's evil-givers from corrupting the medical profession with freebies—despite the insistence of the FDA and the industry that current guidelines are working just fine.

A couple of months back, the Massachusetts Senate passed a bill to mandate the licensing of all pharma reps in the state. “Hairdressers and manicurists must be licensed to work in the Commonwealth,” proclaimed Sen. Mark Montigny, D-MA, who sponsored the bill. It follows that reps “who attempt to influence doctors to prescribe name-brand drugs” must be licensed too.
The scarier part of the bill was the proposed criminalization of gift-giving, which could send Massachusetts offenders to prison for two years. “This is one more example of good intentions gone bad,” declared a less-than-impressed John Kamp, executive director of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication. “It's time to wise up, Massachusetts, and understand that the medical care industries must collaborate to deliver the best care to patients.”

While Montigny is laying the blame with pharma in threatening to lock up its reps, he seems equally keen on exposing gift-taking physicians, telling USA Today in February that “there ought to be, online, a report that everyone can see that says doc so-and-so has taken more than most.”
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, a recent interpretation of the state's $50 annual gift cap— that meals now count as gifts—has left something of bad taste in the mouth (page 11). “If a drug rep brings pizza, or takes you out to lunch, the meal is a gift,” clarifies Cody Wiberg, PharmD, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy. Again, physicians don't escape the hook—offenders would be referred to the board.

Arguably the toughest clampdown of all is happening across the pond where the UK's medical profession regulator, the General Medical Council, is threatening to strike doctors from the medical register, should they accept excessive gifts or incentives.

Revisions to the council's guidance will also encourage physicians to blow the whistle on gift-greedy colleagues.

So does pharma get away scot-free in doc-bashing Britain? Not exactly. In February, the Chicago Tribune reported that the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry had suspended Abbott Laboratories' membership because its sales reps had paid for lap dances, Wimbledon tickets and other perks for health professionals. It was little more than a symbolic slap on the wrist for Abbott. And although the reps were fired (some had already quit), there was no criminal action. However, they would be wise to steer clear of Massachusetts…

Lunch'n'judge
MM&M gave 42 industry leaders a free lunch of their own on July 17, but there was nothing underhand about this particular gesture. The execs had congregated at the Warwick Hotel, New York to judge the 612 entries to the MM&M Awards 2006. Thanks to the commitment, expertise, diligence and spirit of this all-star panel—which included Shire CEO Matthew Emmens, Botox VP Tom Albright and Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare CEO Mike Trepicchio—we are sure to end up with 22 worthy winners.

We will publish the shortlist of finalists Aug. 1 in our newsletter MM&M News Brief and at mmm-online.com, then in the September issue of MM&M. However, the individual winners won't be revealed until the envelopes are opened at New York's Tavern on the Green, Nov. 2. It's sure to be one heck of a party—I hope you can make it.

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