Burning Question

Time for Big Pharma to disclose its payments to doctors?

The feds plan to force drug makers to tell the public about the perks they offer health-care providers. What will it mean for patients?

The Obama administration is preparing to require drug companies to disclose how much they pay doctors for everything from speaking engagements to travel. Some researchers suspect these perks can drive up health-care costs by encouraging doctors to prescribe more expensive drugs and medical devices. Advocates of the new rule, which is part of the president's sweeping health care reforms, say it will benefit patients by discouraging doctors from letting ties to drug makers influence treatment. But pharmaceutical industry executives say it will scare doctors from working with drug companies, potentially hurting health care as a result. What does the new requirement really mean for patients?

Transparency could be a big help: "The changes could have big implications for those with developmental disabilities," says Shaun Heasley at Disability Scoop. Data suggests that Big Pharma's payments to doctors increase the number of physicians willing to prescribe powerful antipsychotic medications to children with various disabilities. Such treatment is risky, and the drugs often haven't been approved for these uses. Patient advocates will surely welcome the extra caution and scrutiny that transparency will bring. "Doctors' perks may soon be public knowledge"

This isn't transparency. It's "liberal fascism": "The goal, of course, is laudable," says Samuel R. Staley at National Review. But the new rules, being part of the red-tape-heavy "ObamaCare," are being pursued in a way that opens "a door to future regulation of doctor-patient relationships." The information that will be posted online will taint even highly ethical doctors by suggesting their care is suspect. "And the government will ramp up staff to audit the information... Voila! Instant bureaucracy.""The face of Obamacare's incremental Liberal Fascism?"

If anything, the new rules don't go far enough: "This new transparency will be good," says David Callahan at Policy Shop. "But what is still missing are tougher rules that govern what payments Big Pharma can make to doctors in the first place." As long as it remains legal for companies to dangle perks in front of caregivers, "the integrity of the medical profession will remain at risk.""Bribes we should know about: Big Pharma payoffs to doctors will be public"

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