New York Governor David Paterson is proposing new, tougher prohibitions on pharmaceutical companies, restricting them from dispensing gifts and misleading production information to doctors while promoting the use of specific drugs.
New York would thus join at least nine states that have enacted legislation affecting pharmaceutical marketing, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"This will benefit patient care and reduce costs in the Medicaid program, as more expensive drugs will not be prescribed for the wrong reasons," Paterson said. He says he wants to prevent pharmaceutical companies from influencing the prescribing habits of doctors.
Under Paterson's proposal, pharmaceutical companies that violate the law would be fined between $15,000 and $250,000 per violation, and health care professionals would be fined between $5,000 and $10,000 per violation. The state Department of Health would be responsible for enforcement, but would rely on complaints to identify violators.
"This will benefit patient care and reduce costs in the Medicaid program, as more expensive drugs will not be prescribed for the wrong reasons," Paterson said.
But his proposal is less restrictive than some. It would still allow drug representatives to bring lunch to doctors' offices, for example, though it would ban taking docs or their staff out to a restaurant.
Other gifts "such as floral arrangements, artwork, compact discs or tickets to a sporting event" would be prohibited under the proposal, which also regulates consulting relationships between doctors and drug companies, and industry funding of continuing medical education.
David Alexander Paterson, the 55th and current Governor of New York is the first governor of New York of African American heritage and also the second legally blind governor of any U.S. state after Bob C. Riley, who was Governor of Arkansas for eleven days in January 1975.
His popularity is said to be an at an all time low. Will the new proposals make him any the more popular?
"Cracking down on the gifts that the drug industry gives to doctors could lead to more independent prescribing by physicians," said Bill Ferris, a lobbyist for AARP, an advocacy group for older Americans. "Doctors are constantly being solicited to prescribe high-cost brand name drugs when equally effective less expensive drugs may be available."
But the industry is predictably unhappy. They can orchestrate a campaign against Gov. Paterson.
Pharmaceutical companies argue Paterson's measures go beyond the current voluntary code by interfering with the relationships between doctors and experts who act as consultants for the companies.
"This proposal calls for unneeded government intrusion into a competitive private marketplace that is already working well," said Jan Faiks, vice president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing of America, which lobbies on behalf of the industry.
The pharmaceutical industry also says that the Food and Drug Administration's Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications already regulates their marketing practices.
"That code is voluntary, not all of the companies have adopted the code and there are no enforcement standards," said Lisa Ullman, assistant counsel to the governor. She said Paterson's plan makes mandatory most of the things already included in the voluntary guidelines and creates new oversight.
Meantime, as if demonstrating yet again the power of the drug industry, Lawrence M. DuBuske, an allergy and asthma specialist of Boston, has chosen to quit his job at a top Harvard teaching hospital when asked to choose between his job and being a paid speaker for pharmaceutical companies.
DuBuske is no ordinary speaker. Out of thousands of US doctors hired by drug-maker GlaxoSmithKline to talk about its products, he was the highest paid during a three-month period last year, Boston Globe reported.
Many US commentators are pressing for greater transparency on the ties between doctors and the drug and device industries. Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Merck and Medtronic have all said they'll start reporting at least some payments to doctors. And some lawmakers have been pushing to require broad reporting of payments by the industry.