MA Changes Rules Relaxing Doctor Gift Ban

Massachusetts health officials passed final regulations on changes to the Massachusetts medical gift ban, drawing strong criticism from some of the state’s major consumer advocacy groups. 

In 2008, Massachusetts imposed the stiffest ban in the country on pharmaceutical industry gifts to doctors.  Now the law has been loosened.  Companies can treat doctors to quote “modest meals” and alcohol.  The Public Health Council did not establish a dollar limit on what “modest meal” means but said a meal shouldn’t cost more than a doctor might pay if dining at his or her own expense.

Groups like Health Care for All, a boston based consumer group, and AARP, say this is a significant change to the law and a step backwards.  Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, the executive director of Health Care for all, says meals are used to lure doctors to meetings where companies market expensive brand name drugs:

“Whether prescribers intend to or not, we know that when they have some of these meals, or go to these seminars, they feel a sense of obligation to those who sponsor that event.  And we really believe there’s no time or room in our relationship to our providers to have marketing behavior.”

The law was changed after heavy lobbying from the restaurant industry.  Local restaurant owners say they have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in business because of the ban.

Governor Deval Patrick has argued that the change to the ban is small.  And allowing meals would make it easier for companies to educate health care providers about new drugs and medical devices.