If you missed this over the weekend, the New York Times reports on yet another example of very dubious marketing practices by certain pharma manufacturers. This time the charges are that Schering (more or less) paid doctors to prescribe drugs. Anyone watching the health care system for any length of time is used to this. It’s rare that it’s this overt, although it was when Caremark was paying for infusion referrals back in the early 1990s, but sweetening the route to ensuring the right drug ends up written on the prescription pad has always been a big part of pharma’s marketing approach. While there are some limits that since the late 1990s are supposed to be placed on what the local marketing teams can do, the pressure remains on to make the physicians happy, whether it be via Dine and Dashes, free goodies, consulting agreements, or simply having a rep show up that the doctor will enjoy meeting (and I’m not spelling that out for you!).
The NYT suggests that this will only get worse as more and more of the pharma dollar gets spent by the government, and hence more and more of this bad behavior will be punished by Federal fines. As it’s been an accepted cost of doing business by the pharmas for a long time, and as the government really hasn’t got the option of giving them the "death penalty" (i.e. banning them from the Federal marketplace), expect this cycle–bad behavior, then punishment, then official reform, then more local level bad behavior, more punishment, more reform, new bad behaviors, etc–to continue.
By the way, if (as reported in the article) anyone out there wants to send me a consulting agreement accompanied by a large check with a blank schedule of works to be performed at some unspecified time in the future, they will find that I have few fewer ethical qualms in accepting it than the anonymous physician interviewed by the NY Times!