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Bill would limit 'gifts' to doctors

Lawmakers looking to reduce drug firms' influence on physicians
By Ken Dixon
STAFF WRITER
Updated: 04/28/2009 09:28:31 PM EDT

HARTFORD -- Doctors would be banned from accepting gifts and trips from pharmaceutical companies, under legislation that was

promoted Tuesday by Yale and UConn medical students, the attorney general and the leader of the state Senate.

They warned that drug and medical-device companies are improperly influencing doctors, who too often recommend that their patients use more-expensive medications that may be similar to lower-priced drugs.

But a group of state physicians, led by a Fairfield neurologist, said that the bill pending in the state Senate could hinder the ability of doctors to collaborate with manufacturers on new developments in medicine.

"We want to make sure that when it comes to decisions being made about patient care, that those decisions are free from the appearance or the reality of any conflicts," Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said in an afternoon news conference in the Capitol complex.

"Drug money influence on medical decisions must be stopped," Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said. "We're talking about inflated drug prices and lower quality of medical care."

He said consumers suffer through higher costs and lower-quality medical decisions.

"We're talking here about free trips, ghost-writing payoffs, luxury outings and dinners, convention boondoggles," Blumenthal said. "We're not talking about samples."

He said that opponents of the legislation, which the Senate is expected soon to refer to the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee, have used a scare tactic alleging that free samples would be banned under the legislation.

"This bill does not cover samples, nor would it bar sales representatives from going to doctors' offices and educating them or informing them about new drugs," Blumenthal said. "It does not interfere with any sort of free flow of information. It prohibits the kind of major benefits that can skew medical decisions, or small benefits that can distort those judgments and prescriptions."

The bill, which has failed in recent years amid opposition from the medical industry, would limit gifts for doctors to minimal value, such as notepads.

Dr. Peter McAllister, a Fairfield neurologist who is the regional chapter chairman of the Alliance for Patient Access, said in a statement that the legislation could inhibit the relationship among doctors and the medical industry in the development of new therapies.

"Physicians do not meet with drug companies to get a free turkey sandwich; it's about learning more about a disease, benefits and risks of medicines, clinical practice guidelines and new treatment options," McAllister wrote. "The proposed legislation would put burdensome restrictions on this kind of exchange, inadvertently cutting off an entire line of information needed by physicians."

Dr. Steve Smith, a family doctor at a community health center in New London and a member of the board of the National Physicians Alliance, said the state needs the legislation because of needlessly expensive drugs often prescribed by doctors out of a "sense of obligation" to drug companies.

"I've heard it said plenty of times 'oh no way, with all that education, no doctor is going to be bought off with a free lunch,'" Smith said during the Capitol news conference. "Well, the truth is, they are. All of us, if we get a gift from someone else, we want to reciprocate, just as the attorney general said, no matter how small that is."

"If the pharmaceutical drug companies tell you it has no influence on doctors' decisions, why are they spending $11 billion to do it?" Blumenthal added.


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