AARP urges Boston lawmakers to protect RX gift ban



As the House-Senate conference committee readies its final recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2013 state budget, AARP Massachusetts calls on the conferees and legislative leaders to protect the Rx Gift Ban Law, which limits drug company marketing practices and protects consumers.

“Consumers should not have to foot the bill for fancy, free lunches that drug companies give to doctors — and our members agree,” said Linda F. Fitzgerald, state president of AARP Massachusetts, which represents more than 800,000 members age 50 and older in the commonwealth.  “In the last few days alone, over a thousand concerned citizens have contacted their legislators to tell them: Put consumers first, protect the gift ban.”

The state’s Rx Gift Ban Law restricts drug companies from giving free meals outside of the office setting, tickets to entertainment events and other perks.  Gifts in excess of $50 must be reported to the state.

State Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, is a leading champion of the law.  He said, “The gift ban is one important tool to help drive down the spiraling cost of health care for consumers, businesses and government.  Especially with prescription prices still rising, now is not the time for the commonwealth to take a step backwards on this issue.”  Sen. Montigny added, “Illicit marketing and manipulation by drug companies and lobbyists have a serious negative impact on the sacred doctor-patient relationship.”

Pharmaceutical and medical device companies spend more than $20,000 a year, per doctor, on marketing efforts.

Dr. David Korn, consultant in Pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School said, “Choice of therapy should always rest on what’s best for patients and not be biased by industry gifts, including meals, which aren’t really gifts at all.  They’re paid from marketing budgets with only one purpose — to increase sales of companies’ products.”

In a letter to members of the conference committee, Dr. Korn elaborated, “The Gift Ban law encourages physicians and other health care prescribers to seek out and receive balanced and unbiased information about prescription drugs. This law in no way inhibits the ability of any health care provider to receive legitimate education about safe and effective medication use.”

Following last week’s BIO Convention in Boston, Gov. Deval Patrick and other legislators have called for a repeal of the Rx Gift Ban Law.  AARP maintains the law must be protected.

“Prescription drug spending continues to be the fastest growing medical expenditure for consumers, and drug prices continue to climb,” said Fitzgerald.  A look at retail prices for a combined set of widely used prescription drugs finds the cumulative change in prices from 2005 through 2009 was almost double the rate of inflation, this according to the most recent AARP Rx Price Watch report, issued in March 2012.  AARP’s examination of widely used drugs — brand name, specialty and generic — found even with substantial decreases in the prices of generic drugs, the average annual cost of drug therapy continued to rise.

Those opposing the Rx Gift Ban Law —– drug companies, biotech companies, restaurants and others — continue to show growth in jobs and/or in revenues, even as the country continues to recover from the Great Recession.

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