KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Reports Examine Drug Company Payments To Doctors

ProPublica: "Drug companies say the millions of dollars they pay physicians for speaking and consulting justly compensates them for the laudable work of educating their colleagues. But a series of lawsuits brought by former employees of those companies allege the money often was used for illegal purposes - financially rewarding doctors for prescribing their brand-name medications. In several instances, the ex-employees say, the physicians were told to push 'off-label' uses of the drugs - those not approved by the U.S. regulators - a marketing tactic banned by federal law. In the past three years alone, pharmaceutical companies have anteed up nearly $7 billion for settlements. ... Allegations in other whistleblower lawsuits provide a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the drug marketers" such as Allergan, AstraZeneca, Cephalon and Pfizer (Ornstein and Weber, 10/18).

ProPublica, in a separate story: "As far as patients are concerned, the verdict is in: Most people think doctors should not take payments from pharmaceutical companies for promoting their products. In a nationally-representative survey by Consumer Reports of 1,250 adults, more than three-fourths said they would be 'very' or 'somewhat' concerned about getting the best treatment or advice if their doctor were accepting drug-company money. And 70 percent said doctors should tell their patients about such payments if they are going to prescribe drugs from one of those companies" (Kusnetz, 10/18).

The Boston Globe: "The Harvard brand, unrivaled in education, is also prized by the pharmaceutical industry as a powerful tool in promoting drugs. ... Doctors and researchers affiliated with Harvard Medical School collected 45 percent of the $6.3 million given to Massachusetts doctors in 2009 and 2010 by seven pharmaceutical companies that disclosed their payments for parts of those years. The money was mostly for talking to other physicians about the companies' drugs and the diseases they treat, but also for consulting on research and marketing" (Kowalczyk, 10/19).

The Chicago Tribune: "Follow drug company money in Illinois, and it leads to the psychiatry department at Rush University Medical Center, a prominent headache clinic on the North Side of Chicago, a busy suburban urology practice and a psychiatric hospital accused of overmedicating kids. In each of these settings, doctors are drawing an extra paycheck - worth tens of thousands of dollars a year or more - for speaking to other medical professionals about pharmaceutical products at company-sponsored, company-scripted events in Illinois and across the country. The extent of these activities is only now coming to light as drug companies start publicly releasing data about their relationships with physicians, information that until now has been a closely guarded secret. The pharmaceutical data show that 11 Illinois physicians each earned more than $100,000 between January 2009 and June 2010 from seven companies, according to a new database compiled by the national investigative news organization ProPublica" (Graham, 10/18). 

The Chicago Tribune, in a related article: "At drug company-sponsored seminars, Illinois doctors are speaking about dozens of commonly prescribed medications that help millions of patients. But questions have been raised about some of the drugs" (Graham, 10/18). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.