Monday, March 31, 2008

Give Me a Break Dept.: Encourage More Drug Rep Gifts to Lower Health Costs

Christopher R. Anderson, president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, contributed this op-ed to the Boston Globe today:

Anderson says some pretty sensible things, at first, noting that the much-touted Massachusetts healthcare-for-all plan is in serious jeopardy because it lacks cost control features, a point made early on by many policy wonks. But then he gets to the pharmaceutical industry and goes off the deep end.

First he suggests that it's a cost saving measure to encourage docs to visit with reps and get information from them-- I'm sorry, that's "education" according to Anderson. He objects to the total gift ban that's part of the bill introduced by MA Senate President Therese Murray. Anderson reasons that "educated" docs will prescribe more newer drugs, patients will get better faster, and that will lower costs. Righto.

Next Anderson plays the fear card--if you ban Pharma gifts to docs, then you are undercutting the state's biotech industry. He notes figures showing that the large drug firms, between 2000 and 2006, invested $13.4B in the state's biotech firms. The not-so-obvious chain of logic here is that if you won't let Pharma have its way with bribing docs with nice gifts, then Pharma will be put out with you, and it will take its biotech investments to some friendlier state, and jobs will hemorrhage from yours. (Presumably Massachuasetts is in great jeopardy for losing biotech jobs--instead of having really prestigious universities aaround to attract industry research investment, it has to make do with such second-rate places as Harvard, MIT, etc.) It is funny how this veiled threat grows such long legs--I heard the same threat uttered in testimony from one of Anderson's counterparts in Texas when testifying a year ago on a Senate bill to require public reporting of gifts to docs (far less ban them completely).

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