News From the Office of Senator Claire McCaskill (MO)
In a recent Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill questioned medical and pharmaceutical industry leaders about the financial relationship between physicians and drug companies. Pharmaceutical companies currently spend billions of dollars annually – 90 percent of their marketing program – on gifts, lunches, drug samples, and sponsorships of education programs for doctors without any form of public disclosure, leading many to question whether economic incentives provided by the industry cloud physicians’ judgment and put profits ahead of patients.
McCaskill brought her own brother’s experience with pharmaceutical companies as an example to illustrate the way companies wine and dine the doctors who prescribe their medications.
“My brother ran a restaurant in Springfield, and he said the most lucrative part of their business was the private room that was reserved by pharmaceutical companies four nights a week,” McCaskill said. “The wine consumed was unbelievably expensive, the dinners were unbelievably expensive. Now, I’ve got to tell you I don’t think that most Americans think that’s about patients first. That’s about lobbying.”
McCaskill compared such pharmaceutical industry’s activities to those of Congressional lobbyists, and argued that doctors, like politicians, must be required to publicly disclose any gift they receive.
“Anyone would have to acknowledge that a lot of what has gone on with the pharmaceutical industry as it relates to their contacts with doctors is lobbying, pure and simple,” McCaskill said in the hearing. “If we are going to limit the lunches that can be bought for members of Congress in the context of lobbying, shouldn’t we have the same kind of disclosures with doctors? And if it is in fact about the patients, the industry should have no problem disclosing how much money they are spending on doctors in terms of recreational time . . . I’m talking about golf, I’m talking about trips, I’m talking about dinners, I’m talking about expensive wine. Why in the world would we allow that to go on without the public and the patients knowing that’s going on?”
When a pharmaceutical industry leader attempted to avoid questions about the pharmaceutical company representative buying alcohol for doctors, McCaskill pressed them for a yes-or-no answer. Ultimately, she admitted there were no rules to prohibit this from taking place, and defended the industry as simply trying to communicate information about prescription medications.
McCaskill is calling on drug companies and doctors to scale back their financial relationships, and believes that, if necessary, Congress should step in to stiffen federal laws banning doctors from receiving gifts from such companies.
“The current relationship between many doctors and drug companies is a conflict of interest,” McCaskill says. “It’s leaving the best interest of patients behind, and we have to do something to fix it.”