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The November 1, 2007 New England Journal of Medicine calls for fuller disclosure of gifts drug companies pay doctors. The article concludes that costs of industry dinners, trips, and other incentives are passed along to their patients in the form of higher drug prices. A bipartisan bill is pending in the Senate called the Physician Payments Sunshine Act. It was introduced by Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA), the ranking member of the Committee on Finance, and Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the Special Committee on Aging.

The bill mandates that big drug and medical device manufacturers disclose the amount of money they give to doctors. This includes free dinners, vacations, or consulting fees. This is already the law in Minnesota and Vermont and soon in Maine, West Virgiinia and California. The national trend is toward more transparancy. 83% of doctors receive free food and drinks in their offices, 35% are reimbursed for costs associated with professional meetings or continuing medical education, and 28% receive payments for consulting, speaking, or enrolling patients in trials.

According to the article, most physicians deny that receiving free lunches, subsidized trips, or other gifts from pharmaceutical companies has any effect on their practices, but research shows that physician-industry relationships do influence prescribing behavior. After all, if these relationships didn’t affect physician behavior in such a way as to increase sales, companies wouldn’t spend $19 billion each year establishing and maintaining them.

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