Over the past few years, every medical meeting planner has contemplated how the Sunshine Act might impact their attendees, exhibitors and sponsors. A new analysis from non-profit investigative journalism organization ProPublica offers a glimpse into the current state of pharmaceutical payments. The report looks at how much money pharmaceutical companies are paying doctors for promotional speeches, and it reveals some big declines in spending at some of the biggest names in the prescription drug industry.
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At Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly, speaker payments dropped by 55 percent between 2011 and 2012 while speaker fees at Pfizer fell 62 percent during the same timeframe. In December 2013, GlaxoSmithKline, the sixth-largest drug maker in the world, announced that it will no longer hire doctors to promote its products.
“These [changes] are designed to bring greater clarity and confidence that whenever we talk to a doctor, nurse or other prescriber, it is patients’ interests that always come first,” Sir Andrew Witty, CEO, GSK, said at the time of the announcement. “We recognize that we have an important role to play in providing doctors with information about our medicines, but this must be done clearly, transparently and without any perception of conflict of interest.”
While many policymakers have championed the era of transparency, it has created plenty of uncertainty for doctors. A 2013 survey from MMIS, Inc. and Healthcare Data Solutions showed that 63 percent of physicians are deeply concerned that reports of payments from pharmaceutical companies will be in a public database. Now, the industry is finally gearing up to see how the law’s reporting requirements will change relationships between doctors and drug companies. The first disclosures are expected in September.
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Sunshine Doesn’t Stand Alone
While it seems likely that the Sunshine Act has played a role in how these major pharmaceutical names conduct business, the report points to other factors, too. Pfizer, Lilly and Novartis (whose speaker payments dropped by 40 percent) all had patents expire recently. Comments from all these companies suggest that competition from generic drugs will end big campaigns to promote these specific products.
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to read the full report from Charles Ornstein, Eric Sagara and Ryann Grochowski Jones at ProPublica.