Mass. restaurants seek gift ban exemption

July 7, 2010 by State House New...

Restauranteurs in Massachusetts are seeking an exemption from the state's so-called "gift ban" on payments to physicians from the medical device and pharmaceutical industries.

Statehouse News

By Kyle Cheney, State House News Service

Massachusetts restaurateurs hurting for business in an unsettled economy and frustrated by lawmakers' willingness to exempt casinos from alcohol service limits are pleading with lawmakers to give them a break this week, over the objection of patient advocates.

That break comes in the form of a House proposal to exempt restaurants from a 2008 state law that bars medical device and pharmaceutical companies from wining and dining doctors, which restaurants say has taken a bite out of their business in the two years since.

The proposal, an amendment to an omnibus "economic development" bill set for House consideration today, is sponsored by Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, whose North End district in Boston is home to dozens of restaurants located near major Boston hospitals.

"My district has a huge number of restaurants, and they make up a large portion of the businesses in my communities that I represent in Boston. I haven't yet seen any studies or facts that point to cost-savings, healthcare cost savings related to these meetings," Michlewitz said in a phone interview.

Michlewitz said his proposal wouldn't eliminate a $50 limit on gifts to doctors but would allow device and pharma companies to treat doctors to a meal outside of hospitals and their local offices.

Under current law, companies may still cater food from local restaurants to doctors' offices but cannot pay for doctors' meals off-premises. Restaurant advocates say device and drug companies have shown little interest in catering, cutting deep swaths out of their function revenue.

"In some cases it's a very large portion of their function business," said Janine Harrod, director of government relations for the Mass. Restaurant Assn. "It wasn't that they were lavish, extravagant dinners. It's that they were frequent."