Last week Senator Grassley of Iowa introduced The Physician Payments Sunshine Act in the Senate that would require drug companies to disclose how much money they give to doctors. Its name refers to the need to shine light on the financial relationships that exist between drug makers and doctors.

Here’s the skinny on the bill:

Who reports: Manufacturers of pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices that gross over $100 million annually
What’s reported: Any payment or gift worth $25 or more – including funding for research, travel, speakers fees, conferences, consulting
How often: 4 times/year
Who they report to: Dept. of Health and Human Services, who must put the info on a public website
Penalty for not reporting: $10,000 – $100,000 per violation
States that already have reporting laws: Minnesota, Maine, Vermont, West Virginia

…and other fun facts:

Amount spent by the drug industry marketing to doctors: Approx. $19 billion/year
Percentage of doctors that received freebies, gifts or payments from drug companies last year: 94%
Universities that have banned gifts to doctors: Stanford, Yale, Penn

Excerpt from Senator Grassley’s introduction of the bill:

“There is no question that the drug and device industries have an intricate network of financial ties with practicing physicians. These financial relationships can take many forms. They can include speaking honoraria, consulting fees, free travel to exotic locations for conferences, or funding for research. Drug and device companies spend billions and billions of dollars every year marketing their products. A good amount of this money goes directly to doctors in the form of these payments.

This practice, and the lack of transparency around it, can obscure the most important question that exists between doctor and patient: what is best for the patient?

As the editorial board of the Des Moines Register wrote recently, “Your doctor’s hands may be in the till of a drug company. So how can you know whether the prescription he or she writes is in your best interest, or the best interest of a drug company?” That’s an excellent question. Currently, the public has no way of knowing whether their doctor has taken payments from the drug and device industries, and I intend to change that — not just for Iowans but for all Americans.

Payments to a doctor can be big or small. They can be a simple dinner after work or they can add up to tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. That’s right – hundreds of thousands of dollars for one doctor. It’s really pretty shocking.

Companies wouldn’t be paying this money unless it had a direct effect on the prescriptions doctors write, and the medical devices they use. Patients, of course, are in the dark about whether their doctor is receiving this money.”

What can you do? Call or email your Senators and tell them you support Senator Grassley’s Physician Payment Sunshine Act – ask them to sign on as a co-sponsor!