Tomei sponsors bill for drug gift accountability

SALEM-Representative Carolyn Tomei (D-Milwaukie) has introduced a bill that would force big drug companies to notify the state of the gifts and payments they make to healthcare providers, Tomei announced Friday.

The bill (HB 2817) would require the companies to make annual disclosures of the nature, value and purposes of any such gifts to doctors, hospitals and other health professionals.

“If my doctor prescribes a high-priced drug for me, I want to know if he or she has received extravagant gifts from the manufacturer,” Tomei said. “With healthcare costs skyrocketing, patients need this kind of information in order to be wise consumers. We need to know whether the big drug companies have used gifts to get marketing help from doctors and other healthcare providers.”

Presently, consumers have no way to track the influence that drug manufacturers bring to bear on physicians through gifts and gratuities.

“As an elected official, I must disclose who donates money to my campaign,” Tomei said. “Patients should be able to get the same kind of information about their doctors.”

Pharmaceutical companies spend about $16 billion a year in promotions aimed at physicians in America-five times more than they spend on television ads aimed at consumers. To market new drugs, the companies spend between $6,000 and $11,000 per doctor in gifts and incentives. Unfortunately, the new drugs are almost always more costly to patients than other drugs on the market, Tomei explained. But many of the new drugs are no more effective than older, cheaper ones, she said.

“House Bill 2817 is all about transparency and accountability,” said Tomei, who is vice chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee. “I hope our Committee will consider this bill, and give the public an opportunity to participate in a hearing.”

The number of drug company representatives almost tripled between 1995 and 2002, Tomei said, even though the number of doctors barely increased during the same time period. Two major healthcare organizations in Oregon have said receiving gifts from drug companies is a conflict of interest for healthcare professionals. These organizations have restricted gifts and meetings with representatives of drug manufacturers. In the eyes of many doctors, gifts from the drug companies compromise the integrity of the healthcare industry, though few admit to feeling such effects personally.

Tomei’s bill would require pharmaceutical companies to submit an annual report to the Oregon Department of Justice, disclosing all gifts and payments to physicians, hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacists, health plan administrators, and anyone else authorized to prescribe or dispense prescription drugs. The bill does not cover drug samples intended for patients, or gifts valued at $25 or less.