Cities and States Add New Regulations, Complicating Medical Events

Author: David McMillin       

As cities and states continue to police the relationships between physicians and pharmaceutical companies, new laws are making things even more complicated for medical meeting organizers.

This story starts with a fictional character. Let’s call her Dr. Louise Baxter. As a practicing physician in Hoboken, New Jersey, Dr. Baxter lives just five miles from New York City, and she will be attending a medical conference next week in Manhattan. A representative from a pharmaceutical company — let’s call him Don — invites Dr. Baxter to dinner. If Don is picking up the tab, Dr. Baxter may want to restrict her meal to the $10 side of spinach, the free bread, and a glass of tap water.

Sound crazy? While Dr. Baxter may be fictitious, the scenario is entirely plausible. Before former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie left office, his administration enacted a new law that drastically limits the amount that pharmaceutical companies can spend on meals for physicians. It is currently capped at $15, which is exactly 50 cents more than the salad I purchased for lunch while writing this article. At the PCMA Education Conference in Cleveland, Pat Schaumann, senior director of healthcare compliance at Maritz, provided examples that reminded the audience that individual states and cities are adding new physician regulations.

“If you are holding your meeting in the state of New Jersey, or more importantly, you have physicians who are licensed in the state of New Jersey, you must follow their new laws,” Schaumann said. “There are several provisions. The one that is causing the most uproar is the $15-meal cap.”

In addition to the $15-meal cap, the regulation limits the amount that physicians can earn from prescribing companies for speaking engagements to $10,000 per year. A notable exclusion is that the $10K-cap excludes continuing medical education events. However, the meal restriction certainly causes some challenges for the types of networking activities that might occur around a meeting. It’s important for medical meeting organizers to recognize that some attendees may be arriving with big concerns about monitoring their activities. The New Jersey law requires physicians to submit their own reports on transfers of value. So they aren’t merely trying to track their CE. They’re also trying to track if anyone buys them sandwiches or cocktails.

Schaumann, curious to know more about the implications of the law, decided to ask an attorney a simple question: What happens if the doctor eats a meal that costs $17? “It was amazing to me that he said that their license can be suspended or revoked,” Schaumann said. “Pretty strong enforcement.”

When the law was unveiled, it had a noble purpose: to combat the opioid crisis in the country. While no one can argue with the need to curb overprescription of addictive drugs, plenty in the events and hospitality communities have been outspoken about the side effects of the regulation. In February, Marilou Halvorsen, president and CEO of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association, said that restaurants in the state estimated losses of at least $4.5 million as a result of the rule. Nicholas Vasilakis, owner of audiovisual company Event Solutions Corp., told that he expects to lose more than $100,000 this year from cancellations or nonbookings of the 200 or so (medical) events he works on annually in the Garden State.

In New Jersey, those losses may be reversed if the rumors that Gov. Phil Murphy may revise the legislation prove to be true. Regardless, Schaumann’s session served as a reminder of the importance of staying ahead of the curve of the constantly changing regulatory landscape. For example, Schaumann mentioned a law in the state of Nevada which requires that any sales representative arriving in the state must report any transfer of value to a physician under a specific condition: if that doctor is involved in the treatment of diabetes.

The maze of regulations isn’t confined to the U.S., though. From GDPR to MedTech Europe’s Code of Ethical and Reasonable Business Practices, new initiatives around the world are impacting medical meeting organizers. Watch Schaumann’s entire session here for tips on preparing for regulatory changes.

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