Code for drug reps should fend off new regulations

The pharmaceutical industry’s trade group just announced a new voluntary code of conduct. The updated rules, which take effect on Jan. 1, severely restrict drug company sales reps from giving gifts and purchasing meals for doctors. The rules also impose new regulations on consulting arrangements between physicians and drug companies.

By creating a new code of conduct, the industry is trying to fend off an attack by politicians, who seek to regulate drug companies to the point of absurdity. Under the industry’s old guidelines, drug reps were allowed to give gifts of up to $100 to physicians. That’s why Lipitor post-it pads and Claritin letter-openers are so ubiquitous around doctors’ offices. Under the new rules, however, all but educational gifts will be prohibited.

And whereas the old rules allowed for drug reps to purchase “modest” and “occasional” meals for physicians, restaurant outings will no longer be permissible under the industry’s new plan. As if that weren’t enough, the pharmaceutical trade group also is instituting new regulations regarding the fees paid to doctors who work as consultants.

The rules seem a bit excessive, but at least they’re self-imposed (and not legally binding).

When a doctor decides which treatment to prescribe, free stationary and a burger at Applebee’s isn’t likely to be a major influence. Physicians are quite well paid, and they swear an oath to do what’s best for their patients. Even if they could be bribed, it would presumably take more than a few post-it pads.

Let’s hope this is enough to satisfy the politicians, who apparently are convinced that drug companies and physicians are in cahoots. Here in New York, lawmakers are pushing legislation to impose severe non-voluntary restrictions, including making it illegal for drug companies to give gifts to doctors.

Unfortunately, in this rush to regulate, common sense seems to have disappeared. Voluntary guidelines are one thing. But unbendable legislation is quite another, and we’re already on the path to absurdity. If doctors can be so easily bribed, then why stop at restricting gifts and meals?

Should there also be a law barring attractive women from becoming drug reps so male doctors aren’t beguiled into prescribing the wrong medication?

And what about personal relationships between doctors and sales reps? Perhaps there should be a law prohibiting friendly chatter, funny jokes and excessive compliments. A disinterested third party could sit in on sales meetings to make sure none of the above regulations is broken.

It’s the nature of politicians to lust for more paperwork. One would hope the drug industry’s new code of conduct will satisfy them. The fact that the industry is regulating itself should at least quell fears that doctors are for sale — and put a halt to legislative efforts to create unnecessary red tape, which only will drive up medical costs.

Sally C. Pipes is president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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