Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

Massachusetts to overturn pharma freebie ban?

Doctors in Massachusetts may once again be allowed to receive any type of promotional gift from drug companies if a new bill clears the state legislature.

Two years ago, the Bay State passed a controversial law that prohibited pharmaceutical and medical-device companies from giving away meals and trinkets such as pens to healthcare professionals. Although the first-in-the-nation measure has been applauded for limiting undue industry influence over medical practice, many critics say the benefits do not outweigh the economic costs.

“Over the past year and a half, we’ve been hearing from device and biotech companies, the convention center and the restaurant industry, that this is causing additional problems during the worst recession in memory,” Representative Brian Dempsey, chairman of the Committee on Economic Development, told the Boston Business Journal.

The repeal is currently included in the State House’s economic development bill, but not in the recently passed State Senate version of the stimulus bill. Reconciling the two pieces of legislation may prove difficult as many State Senators strongly endorse the ban on gifts to physicians.

Notably, this is not the first time that gift bans have been challenged. Last year, after Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and Partners HealthCare in Boston outlawed pharma handouts, James Thrall, radiologist-in-chief at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, told Nature Medicine: “Without robust interaction between practicing physicians and industry, no new technology will become available.” Read the full story in the July 2009 issue of the journal.

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