Obama administration finally proposes doc-disclosure rules

Ready for doc-payment disclosure rules in the U.S.? They've been promised for years now, ever since Sen. Charles Grassley and his cohorts started hammering on drugmakers' payments to physicians, academics and researchers. They've been on their way since October, when a provision in President Obama's healthcare reform law was set to take effect. Now, as The New York Times reports, the proposed procedures are open for public comment.

Pharma companies are savvy enough to say they're all for transparency and disclosure. Indeed, several major drugmakers already report payments to doctors, some because they're required to as part of drug-marketing settlements with the Justice Department. Pfizer ($PFE), Eli Lilly ($LLY), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Merck ($MRK) and AstraZeneca ($AZN) are among the companies whose payment data has already gone online. But as Matthew Bennett of PhRMA told the newspaper, the payment data need to be disclosed in context. Drug companies often do work with doctors to improve care, Bennett said.

Critics point to studies showing that drugmakers' payments can influence treatment, favoring newer, heavily marketed and more expensive drugs. The Times points out that doctors who have financial ties to pharma tend to be more willing to use drugs off label. As scrutiny of these financial ties has intensified, medical schools and teaching hospitals have instituted new conflicts-of-interest policies. ProPublica found that fewer doctors were accepting fees from pharma because they were worried about the potential stigma.

Some other changes are expected from the rules. For instance, government auditors believe that disclosure might reduce spending, at least eventually. But in its introduction to the new rules, the Obama administration focuses on reducing conflicts of interest that might affect treatment and allowing patients to make informed choices when they pick healthcare providers. "The goal is to let the sun shine in and make information available to foster accountability," Grassley told the NYT.

- see the NYT piece
- get more from Pro Publica

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