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Study Reviews State Medical Disclosure Laws

Data About Drug Company Payments to Doctors Not Readily Available, Study Finds

WASHINGTON, DC -- March 30, 2007 -- Although payments from drug manufacturers to doctors can be substantial, statistics on these transactions are not easily available to the public, according to a recent report on disclosure laws in Vermont and Minnesota (JAMA. 2007 Mar 21; 297(11): 1216-23).

Doctors are permitted to receive cash payments, gifts, meals, textbooks, and conference fees from the pharmaceutical companies whose products they may prescribe. However, five areas--California, Maine, Minnesota, Vermont, West Virginia and the District of Columbia--now monitor these payments. Only Vermont and Minnesota allow the data collected to be made public.

The study looked at pharmaceutical company payments of over $100 to doctors in Vermont and Minnesota. In Vermont over a two-year period, 12,227 payments totaling $2.18 million were disclosed. Payments ranged from $100 to $63,458. The disclosed amounts represented only 39% of all payments reported to the state because data concerning $3.41 million was withheld on the grounds that it involved trade secrets.

In Minnesota over three years, 7,290 payments were disclosed for a total of $30.96 million. Only 25% of drug companies reported making payments, which ranged from $100 to $1,190,601.

Obtaining Access to Pharmaceutical Industry Data

The study authors said that getting access to Vermont payment information required "extensive negotiation" with the Vermont Attorney General and they were unable to obtain physician-specific statistics. To obtain Minnesota information, they had to manually photocopy individual disclosure forms from the State Board of Pharmacy.

A consumer group, Public Citizen, sued the Vermont Attorney General and many drug manufacturers to obtain disclosure of payments designated as trade secrets. As of February 2007, 18 companies had settled the lawsuit, and 12 of those provided records of their disclosed payments.

"Even with the many problems limiting public access to payment information, we were still able to observe that substantial numbers of payments in excess of $100 had been made to physicians by pharmaceutical companies," said Dr. Joseph Ross, the principal study author and an instructor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine (Press Release, Public Citizen, March 20, 2007). "And we are probably only seeing the tip of the iceberg, given the incompleteness of the data."

"Individuals who want to know how much drug company money their doctor is accepting and from whom will have a difficult time finding the information because the state disclosure laws are so riddled with holes and inconsistencies," observed Dr. Peter Lurie, a study co-author and the deputy director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group. The study recommends that future laws include no exemption for trade secrets and have strong enforcement provisions such as penalties and fines to ensure that disclosures are made. An enforcement agency should be responsible for levying the fines, collecting the data and making it available to the public in a easily understood format such as a web site, the study concludes.

The Influence of Drug Companies

Good disclosure laws may help lessen the influence of the pharmaceutical industry and minimize conflicts of interest. Brayton Purcell is concerned about this issue as well as about the safety of our prescription drugs. Please feel free to contact us if you have been injured by a medication. We will review your case free of charge and advise you of your legal options.

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