Before you swallow that new drug prescribed by your doctor, wouldn't you like to know whether the drug's manufacturer recently treated your physician to an all-expenses-paid golf junket to Pebble Beach or Hilton Head to extol its miracle properties?
The pills-for-perks dance is commonplace in modern medicine, where based on appearances alone, one might easily conclude that the tail is wagging the dog.
According to an analysis by The New York Times, about 1 in 4 doctors take cash directly from drug companies or medical device makers and 2 out of 3 take free food for themselves and their staff. And it works: according to the Times, those who ride the gravy train are more willing to prescribe drugs in unapproved or potentially risky ways.
Is your doctor prescribing the drug because he or she truly believes it's the best course of treatment for you? Or is it because Maui's Royal Kaanapali is the course they've always dreamed of playing?
Soon, you won't have to wonder. Healthcare reform architects are about to shine a spotlight into this ethical back alley by requiring all drug companies and makers of medical devices covered by Medicare or Medicaid to disclose all gifts or payments they make to doctors.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, every financial expenditure, from golf junkets to coffee and donuts for the doctor's office, will be posted by the federal government on a public website.
The bipartisan reform, sponsored by Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa and Herb Kohl, D-Wis., was one of numerous consumer protections included in the Affordable Care Act.
Will public disclosure of the longstanding pills-for-perks practice end it? Hardly. The pharmaceutical industry isn't about to abandon one of its most cost-effective income-generating strategies, even if some doctors may beg off lest it cost them prestige and/or patients.
But at least it will finally give health insurance customers the opportunity to shop for a doctor who is not a frequent passenger on the pharmaceutical gravy train.
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