Come 2013, drug companies in the $200 billion-plus pharmaceutical industry must start publicly disclosing gifts and payments to physicians.
That's a requirement of one of the most pro-consumer provisions of the federal health-care legislation signed by President Barack Obama last year.
The powers that be have announced they will work furiously to overturn Obama's legislation in order to protect Big Pharma and their obscene profits.
Drug companies spend $30 billion annually on marketing, much of it directly aimed at physicians.
Patients have a right to know whether their physicians accept those payments -- not all do -- and how much they get.
Linked at the end of this article is a database where you can get this information.
In the US, it's an unfortunate fact that we can no longer rely on major media outlets to work in the public interest or report crucial information to the public, if such reporting might anger the government or impact the bottom line of a major corporate interest. It is revealing that some of the strongest reactions against WikiLeaks for its revelations of government corruption -- are the major "news" outlets themselves. Investigative journalism in the US is largely dead.
Fortunately, a genuine journalistic venture recently began in the US and has already garnered a Pulitizer Prize for it's work in 2010. ProPublica.org is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Their work focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with "moral force." They do this by producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong, and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.
ProPublica.org is a site to bookmark, subscribe to, and support with your contributions.
Recently ProPublica obtained a limited amount of financial data on physicians who take money from Big Pharma, and compiled it into a database. The database (linked below) is readily searchable by physician name, by city and more.
The New York-based ProPublica has identified 43 physicians who have earned more than $200,000 since 2009 in speaking and consulting fees from drug and medical device companies that are disclosing payments.
Three Californian doctors are in the $200,000-plus club. Another 36 California doctors received payments of between $100,000 and $200,000. Scores of others have collected thousands or tens of thousands in payments.
The disclosures in the database represent a mere fraction of drug company payments made to physicians. Only seven of the 70 pharmaceutical companies operating in the United States are making their payments public.
The others will need to start complying in 2013 -- unless the incoming Congress succeeds in its wrong-headed quest to aid corporate greed and repeal the landmark health-care legislation.
Drug company payments raise fundamental questions: Are physicians who take drug company money working for the drug manufacturers or the patient? Are doctors who prescribe one pill or medical device over another basing their decisions on which company pays them the most?
University of California and Stanford medical schools have ethics policies that govern gifts. Stanford has banned its physicians from accepting drug company payments for promotional talks.
But ProPublica reported last week that not all physicians adhered to the policies.
Most physicians collecting payments are not affiliated with university medical schools. Many work in independent groups, generally affiliated with private hospitals.
Of course, doctors, like everyone else, should be paid fairly for honest work. But universities and hospital groups need to review their policies -- and in some cases develop policies -- to make sure there is full disclosure, and that conflicts are minimized.
Consumers, meanwhile, ought to use the information that is available to question their physicians.