Earlier this week we reported that Eli Lilly and Company will reveal how much money it pays physicians for speeches and consulting, starting next year. Lilly was 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. Now, on the heels of that announcement, New Jersey-based drug maker Merck & Company announced that it will be releasing such disclosures, as well.
Merck said it endorses the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which is sponsored by US Senators Charles Grassley (Republican-Iowa) and Herbert Kohl (Democrat-Wisconsin). Although the bill has not yet passed, Merck said that “even in the absence of a legislative requirement … we are committed to begin disclosure in 2009 of payments to physicians who speak on behalf of our company or our products.” Merck announced that effective October, it will begin “enhancing transparency of our grants to patient organizations, medical professional societies,” and for “independent professional education initiatives, including accredited continuing medical education (CME).” Merck said it plans to expand its disclosures to include other grants made by The Merck Company Foundation and the Merck Office of Corporate Contributions during 2009.
In October, Merck will also begin disclosing study results, regardless of outcome, on ClinicalTrials.gov. and will publish its Corporate Responsibility Report detailing “future commitments to enhanced transparency.” Merck added that it is committed to increasing transparency “in all major aspects of our operations, from research to sales and marketing practices.”
Eli Lilly and Merck are not alone. In a growing trend, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, have also backed the Sunshine Act. Many critics feel the act can do more. It currently only calls for firms to declare gifts over $500 a year made to doctors, which is an increase from the $25 limit suggested in a previous draft. Also, the revised bill reduces fines to $1,000-$50,000 from $10,000-$100,000 per violation.
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. Regarding Lilly’s announcement earlier this week, 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.