Banned in Boston

April 6, 2009 by Chris Markuns

Massachusetts enacted the nation's strictest law governing industry payments to physicians. What does the so-called "gift ban" mean for the Commonwealth's medical devices sector?

Say goodbye to the promotional pen

Pharma is sexy. Big drugs, big money, big news. In the life sciences arena, perhaps only biotech commands a higher political and public profile.

So it isn’t surprising that the medical device industry’s groundbreaking inclusion in Massachusetts’ new code of conduct garnered relatively little attention.

But the new rules governing industry payments to physicians — the so-called "gift ban" — include provisions aimed at curbing what some call undue and improper influence by medical device manufacturers.

Finalized March 11 by the state Department of Public Health’s Public Health Council, the toughest-in-the-nation policy aims to lower healthcare costs by forcing companies to reduce the amount spent on marketing.

That means no more meals outside of a presentation or hospital setting — and spouses should plan on brown-bagging it, as paying for their meals is over too. It means no gifts or payments of any kind — say good bye to the promotional pen — and no covering doctors’ continuing medical education expenses.

The policy also aims to make the life sciences industry more transparent, by mandating that companies divulge to the public how much they spend and what — or who — they spend it on. Companies must report the “value, nature, purpose and particular recipient of any fee, payment, subsidy or other economic benefit with a value of over $50.”

Although the regulations cover much of the same ground as similar laws in a handful of other states, they also make Massachusetts the first to include medical device manufacturers in the ban on certain payments to healthcare practitioners, the first to mandate financial disclosure from medical device companies and the only state to require disclosing handouts of demonstration and evaluation units.

And, predictably, more ink was spilled over the extinction of promotional doodads and a-la-carte steakhouse dinners.

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