big kids making baby steps aren’t cute

Fine, go ahead and keep your colorful, chunky plastic pens and ugly canvas totes.
As long as I can keep my five-star dinner and “business” trip to Hawaii, I’m happy.

Essentially, that’s what every doctor is thinking when they hear about the recently passed Industry Code on Interactions with Health Care Professionals. The bill is designed to improve transparency between pharmaceutical marketing aimed at doctors to woo them into prescribing their products.
According to the new code, now every pharmaceutical company CEO has to sign an agreement saying they promise to enact policies and procedures to comply with the code, eliminating mugs, pens, other gifts from their marketing strategies.
Only problem here? The bill doesn’t address biotechnology or medical technology makers at all, who can just keep on giving huge gifts under the table. It also doesn’t ban lavish, “business dinners”, or conferences “conveniently” held in Hawaii. It demands a limit on how much pharmaceutical companies can pay doctors to speak at conferences endorsing their new drugs, but doesn’t say how much. Kind of important, since some current paychecks have reached millions.

“Right now the public has no way to know whether a doctor’s been given money that might affect prescribing habits,” Senator Chuck Grassley said in a report in Medical News Today.
“This bill is about letting the sun shine in so that the public can know. Whether it’s dinner at a restaurant or tens of thousands of dollars or more in fees and travel, patients shouldn’t be in the dark about whether their doctors are getting money from drug and device makers.”
And why would the American public be offended at these cushy endorsement deals? Because it’s their money that the drug companies are using to woo the doctors. ….
“This is a system in dire need of reform,” says Senator Herb Kohl, who co-sponsored a bill with Senator Chuck Grassley to require drug and medical advice companies to publicly disclose payments to doctors of $500 or more.
“We’ve been pushing to see reforms like this for some time now,” said Senator Kohl. “Consumers will undoubtedly be the beneficiaries of these industry changes”, he noted, adding how currently, Americans are charged the highest prices in the world for drugs that are sold in other countries for a fraction of the price.

Bottom line:
Yes, a step has been made towards transparent marketing, which is absolutely a step in the right direction. But while baby steps count as forward progress, I’ve never heard anyone congratulated on baby-stepping through a hundred-meter dash.

Bill Murray made baby steps look cute in “What About Bob”, but when millions of Americans are going to other countries because they can’t afford drugs or health care here, it’s no longer cute. Let’s stop pretending pharmaceutical marketing is transparent, and point out how dirty the window really is.

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