KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Drug Payment Database Spurs Local Reports

A database put together by ProPublica of drugmakers' payments to physicians for promoting their products is now spurring local inquiries and garnering some response from physicians.

The (Cleveland, Ohio) Plain Dealer: "In Ohio, the pharmaceutical data reveal that 15 physicians each received more than $100,000 from one or more of the seven drug companies from January 2009 to June 2010. Six of these physicians practice in the greater Cleveland area. Physicians in the Cleveland area made more than $3.7 million from pharmaceutical payments over the 18 month period of the investigation. Almost one third of that went to the top six earners" (Zeltner, 10/21).

7News (Denver, Colo.): "The group found 12 doctors in Colorado took more than $100,000 [each]. … Two of the top three doctors, Ronald Balkissoon and Joseph Spahn, list offices at National Jewish. The hospital said the opinions and expertise of its physicians are sought by government, scientific journals, industry associations, other physicians and pharmaceutical companies" (Stanley, 10/20).

The Marin (Calif.) Independent Journal: "Nineteen Marin doctors received more than $269,000 in payments from seven pharmaceutical companies in 2009 and the first half of 2010, according to a report by an independent, nonprofit news organization. Much of the work that the doctors were paid to do involved speaking to groups of other doctors about the benefits of a particular drug. But the ProPublica report also noted that when doctors are paid by drug companies it can inappropriately influence what they prescribe" (Halstead, 10/19).

KUOW (Seattle, Wash.): "[N]early 300 doctors in Washington have taken payments from the pharmaceutical industry this year and last year. Bellevue endocrinologist Brad Wallum topped the list; Glaxo Smith Kline paid him $180,000 for his speaking engagements. Glaxo paid Okanagan County allergist Greg Ledgerwood $117,000. Four other doctors made over a hundred grand from various big pharma firms" (Ryan, 10/20).

Also, PBS's Nightly Business Report found a doctor who got fed up with drug makers demands. Records show Dr. Stuart Stoloff, a Carson City family medicine practitioner received $107,000 in 2009, but only $500 this year from Glaxosmithkline, a drugmaker. Why did the payments stop? Stoloff says, "In 2009, the majority of the year, I was invited to speak on guidelines and on the state of asthma." But, the next year, the company demanded that to maintain his contract, he read slides word for word that essentially hawk Glaxo products. "I couldn't do it," he said (Gharib, 10/19).

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