Monday, August 15, 2011

Integrity in Government? Forget About It

Once again I can sit back and let others do all the heavy lifting for this blog, in this case Dr. Roy Poses at Health Care Renewal:

Dr. Poses conveniently combines three breaking news stories, each of which features an unfortunate retreat from integrity by an arm of the Federal government, where previous action that showed a commitment to integrity is in danger of being reversed:

  • The FDA is telling Congress that it cannot find real medical experts who are not in the pay of drug companies, so please excuse them from their goal of excluding these industry shills from FDA advisory committees

  • NIH is now saying that academic medical centers cannot find the resources to maintain websites that list the sources of payment for faculty members with financial conflicts of interest, so it cannot implement a previously announced transparency plan

  • DHHS earlier threatened to exclude Forrest Laboratories CEO Howard Solomon from further dealings with Federal health programs (the so-called fiscal "death penalty") after his firm was found responsible for repeated violations committed on his watch. This was initially hailed as a step to show that finally DHHS was serious about punishing companies that repeatedly broke the rules. Now DHHS says--sorry, we were just kidding; after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and PhRMA raised a howl. (Forrest hired former Sen. John Breaux as its lobbyist to fight the exclusion.)
See Dr. Poses' long post for details and additional links on each of the three actions, but if there's a summary message, it seems to be a cynical one--the election is approaching and with the US Supreme Court removing all limits on corporate cash flowing into campaign coffers, don't expect either the executive or the legislative branches to stand up to the aggressive corporate lobbying of the drug industry and its cronies. In the case of the NIH my feelings are more mixed due to my own conflict of interest, as a faculty member at an academic medical center. I've seen up close and personal the damage being done to our institutions as both state funds and NIH grants are cut back and every medical school is expected to do more with less. So I have a bit more sympathy there. Still, given the hoopla with which the new NIH COI transparency rules were announced, it is deeply disappointing to see the full-scale retreat with hardly a whimper. Moreover, one has to wonder--is it really the gripe of the academic medical centers that they don't have the resources to staff the websites? Or is it rather that they'd prefer not to interfere with the corporate grant machine that their conflicted faculty help to fuel with the industry's largesse?

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