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Rep. Walsh targets doctor gratuities

LYNN-Doctors in Massachusetts would be forced to report expensive dinners and other gifts from pharmaceutical company representatives if legislation introduced by Rep. Steve Walsh, a Lynn Democrat, is adopted.According to Walsh, pharmaceutical companies spend more than $20 billion annually to advertise and market new prescription drugs. “Many doctors are reaping the benefits of this marketing drive with gifts of expensive dinners and nights out,” he said, asserting that this practice may influence doctors’ prescribing habits.Walsh said he filed the legislation to create transparency in the relationship between doctors and pharmaceutical companies. If passed, it would require all physicians to report any gift or gratuity that they receive from a representative of a pharmaceutical company, that the physician could not pass on to their patients, before they can renew their certificate of registration.The state representative filed the legislation after a report was issued by the New England Journal of Medicine that indicated 94 percent of all doctors have received food, beverages, drug samples, tickets, or other benefits from drug companies that are hoping to influence their prescribing habits.The report indicated that despite voluntary guidelines adopted by physicians and leading pharmaceutical companies regarding gratuities, there is still widespread contact between doctors and agents of drug companies. Walsh testified in favor of the bill before the Joint Committee on Public Health on Sept.12.”Much like we are required to report any gifts or gratuities we receive as elected officials, there should be transparency in the medical community,” Walsh said. “The goal is not to punish anyone or suggest any impropriety, but instead to ensure patients are receiving the right medications for the right reasons.”Vermont recently passed legislation that requires doctors to report any gift they received over $25 to the state’s attorney general and assigns a fine for each incident of non-compliance. Walsh’s legislation, although not punitive, requires that doctors take the necessary steps to ensure patients are receiving the medications they need and not what the pharmaceutical industry says they need.”Our goal is to ensure that patients receive the best and most efficient care possible,” Walsh said. “If the practice of providing gifts to doctors is getting in the way of that or is making health care in general more expensive, it is a practice that needs to stop”

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