In the midst of ongoing controversy over fees doctors are paid to speak at drug maker-run functions, Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Company will reveal how much money it pays physicians for speeches and consulting, starting next year. Lilly is the first major drug maker to commit to physician payment disclosure, representing the newest example of the pharmaceutical industry’s growing openness about its practices.
John Lechleiter, Lilly president and chairman, is expected to announce the new policy in an address to the Economic Club of Indiana today and has said that, “Lilly is striving to be a leader in improving transparency across our industry” adding, “As Lilly continues to look for more ways to be open and transparent about our business, we’ve learned that letting people see for themselves what we’re doing is the best way to build trust.” Meanwhile, Congress is considering legislation to require all drug companies to release such disclosures. Lilly said it supports the proposed legislation, and its disclosure program will likely be similar to what is called for in the bill.
Under Lilly’s physician payments registry, it will list fees to those physicians who speak and advise for Lilly. It is expected that the registry will also include the physicians’ names and also their hometowns. The posting will begin sometime in the second half of 2009 on a “publicly accessible Internet database,” Lilly said. Also, in 2011, Lilly plans to expand the database to include payment information and to be updated annually for clinical research and other provisions required in the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which is pending in Congress. Currently, physicians must disclose paid work for drug companies when they write studies in medical journals or speak at medical gatherings.
Four years ago, in 2004, Lilly was the first drug maker that voluntarily publicized data on its clinical trials of new drugs. Then, last year Lilly was the first to publicly report its educational grants and charitable contributions. Commenting on such a large drug manufacturer paving the way and becoming the first such company to disclose its payments to doctors, Senator Herbert Kohl—Democrat-Wisconsin—said, it “takes a lot of courage.” Kohl, along with Senator Charles Grassley—Republican-Iowa—sponsors the Sunshine Act.
Drug companies typically compensate physicians for medical advice or when they give lectures about their drug products. Critics have long been saying that such payments have been encouraging physicians to speak more favorably about the paying drug company’s products, creating a bias in prescribing habits. Dr. David Welsh, a general surgeon from Batesville and president of the Indiana State Medical Association, said Lilly’s move is the kind of industry disclosure the group supports adding that he does not believe the planned disclosure will inhibit doctors from consulting with companies or serving as a speaker. “If you’ve got a connection (to a drug company), people need to know. I wouldn’t have a problem with people knowing that.”
In April 2007, Grassley issued a report on how drug makers used educational classes to increase sales, saying “Reforms based on transparency can foster accountability and build confidence in medical education and, in turn, the practice of medicine.” Since Grassley initiated his investigation, drug makers have been publicizing their lists of educational grant recipients.