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Yesterday, only a few days after Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote to Pfizer demanding disclosure of all payments to Harvard University doctors, Massachusetts officials approved strict regulations prohibiting pharmaceutical and medical device companies from offering gifts to doctors, limiting the circumstances under which they can pay for doctors’ meals, and requiring them to publicly disclose doctor payments over $50 for certain consulting and speaking gigs.

While drug companies such as Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly, and Merck have all said they would start disclosing their doctor payments, the $50 Massachusetts threshold is generally much lower than they were intending to go.

According to The Boston Globe:

Companies will have to disclose payments to doctors and hospitals for research designed to promote a particular product, sometimes called "seeding trials"; funding for research aimed at answering a scientific question will still not have to be disclosed.

Also, the [legislation] eliminated a provision allowing companies to provide financial assistance for medical residents and other trainees to attend conferences and education courses.

Health officials said the rules are the most comprehensive in the nation; Massachusetts is now the only state to require disclosure by device makers, as well as drug companies, and just one of two states to make disclosures public, officials said.

"We think this is a victory for consumers," said Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, executive director of Health Care For All, a Boston-based consumer advocacy group. "They will know more about the full relationship between industry and their provider." -Liz Kowalczyk

Because any company doing business in Massachusetts, including at Harvard Medical School, will have to follow the new guidelines, industry execs and special interest groups are arguing that they are so strict as to discourage companies from doing business in Massachusetts, impeding the already faltering economy. Legislators have countered this with the idea that the guidelines will control costs by impeding the unnecessary prescribing of expensive drugs.

Congress is currently considering a bill that would create federal laws concerning which payments must be reported. Drug and device industries have widely supported this bill, no doubt hoping that it might preempt stricter state guidelines.

You can read the new Massachusetts rules on the state’s Department of Public Health website.

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