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Ending the doctor gravy train

By Jay MacDonald ·
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Posted: 10 am ET

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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March 16, 2012 at 2:54 pm

It's fascinating to see how intensely and irrationally some people hate President Obama, and the Affordable Care Act.

They are actually getting angry that the law will expose drug companies that bribe doctors to overprescribe certain drugs!

It's like children sticking their fingers in their ears and singing, to avoid confronting reality.

Obama Derangement Syndrome is a tragic condition. Too bad they haven't invented a medication for that yet.

John G
March 15, 2012 at 6:44 pm

Let me get this straight about how things work in America...

So the politician is never swayed by lobbyists, and if he or she is a lawyer, can ethically sleep with his or her clients.

The mechanic never pads the billed hours it takes to fix your car.

The televangelist doesn't buy a villa with the "Jesus" contributions.

The plumber doesn't gouge the elderly customer to fix the leaky toilet.

The tree cutter doesn't charge $200 an hour to remove the tree threatening your house in the next storm.

The banker or stock broker doesn't steer you to an investment they get a bonus commission for.

But your doctor accepts a free lunch to get samples for his patients and some copies of the most recent research studies is crucified?

Medicine used to be a great career. Not anymore.

Don S
March 15, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Who is this author? Get your facts straight...myself and many of my primary care and specialty colleagues HAVE NEVER had anyhting of worth like an all expense paid trip or "gifts" for prescribing. I'll admit to receiving some sandwiches and BIC pens from a pharmaceutical rep. I'm guessing the author may have received more perks from outside sources. Look at your federal gov't and both sides of Congress to see "gifts" (ie thousands to millions in contributions for starters) some continue to pay off their student loans from med school.

March 15, 2012 at 5:12 pm

this is bs... the politicians who act so holier than thou receive all this and a lot more and yet limit everything for anyone else that has actually done something with their lives... as for the trips, those days have long been over... now the drug and device companies can't even give out pens... i wish we could impose our sanctions on law makers and politicians that no law on others can be passed unless it includes them and if their constituents don't have things that the politicians have, like healthcare, then neither can the politicians... i wonder how long it would take for the politicians to write in a loop hole...

March 15, 2012 at 4:10 am

Some of the commenters must already be suffering from doctor prescribed drug induced DEMENTIA.

The point of the piece is that doctors are being swayed by drug companies to prescribe drugs patients either don't need or might do them harm.


The height of silliness comes from commenters who say, "we have our lives in doctors hands..." and then go on to blame OBAMA for trying to disclose that maybe, just maybe, your doctor has his financial interests and potential junkets more in mind than your health when writing that prescription.

Good. Do that. Go to your doctor OFTEN. May he write you LOTS of bogus prescriptions. When you're pushing daisies, you won't be able to vote your stupid idiotic prejudices.

Please see your corrupted doctor as OFTEN as possible! The less of you around, the better.

March 14, 2012 at 12:04 pm

How many Congressmen accept money, gifts, perks, trips, meals, stock tips, from their constituents? Or from entities OUTSIDE their respective States? Or business entities? And how many of these 'favors' are returned?

If you feel your physician's prescribing habits are influenced by pens and doughnuts, then I would suggest finding a new physician.

I have been a physician for 23 years, and have NEVER been offered any trips to the Royal Kaanapali. I did get a pizza, though.

March 14, 2012 at 9:47 am

It would seem that the Obama administration is out to "get the doctors" with the cutting of fees and now the publishing of their little perks, if you want to call them that. These men and women have our life in their hands many times and should be left alone. Why not go after the free loaders in Congress etc. Bet it would be a far more fertile ground to plow.

March 12, 2012 at 10:14 pm

So what? As if the so-called leaders of our country haven't taken a little something on the side in return for something.....

Doctors EARNED their degree... went to school... YEARS and YEARS of education..... and NOT cheap......let them get a little back....

But our silver spoon fed legislators want to take away anything they can.... it looks good in the media I guess....

March 12, 2012 at 9:52 pm

I have to guess that this story is bought and paid for by the Obama administration to make it seem that doctors are making a killing on the side. I WOULD MUCH RATHER SEE A STORY ABOUT POLITICIANS GETTING RICH ON INSIDER TRADING.

March 12, 2012 at 7:13 pm

What gravy train? I have been in private practice now for about fifteen years.
I honestly cannot remember receiving a free lunch / meal from the drug companies. Not since the days of internship or residency. I have definately never received cash for advocating their products. I do get free samples, which I give out to my patients, especially those who do not have drug plans. And coupons, to buy these items for an affordable price.