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Pharma 'paid US doctors $1.5 billion' in 2014

Published on 07/07/15 at 12:03pm
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European firms spent more than their US counterparts paying US doctors and hospitals for research and marketing

Some of the largest European drugmakers paid US doctors and teaching hospitals $1.5 billion in 2014 to participate in promotional activities, according to figures published under new US law.

The fees were paid to doctors for travel and entertainment, consultancy services and promotional speeches surrounding drugs, and for facilitating clinical trials for new drugs.

The figures come from a new federal-government transparency awareness drive brought in as part of President Obama's US healthcare reforms.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act included a law known as the Sunshine Act, which requires manufacturers of medical devices and drugs to disclose payments that are made to physicians and teaching hospitals on an annual basis.

The idea for greater transparency has stemmed from concerns about doctors’ prescribing decisions being tainted by the money and gifts they receive from pharma companies. However, pharma firms argue the payments are necessary to conduct research in order to gather expert advice from the doctors involved, and to teach doctors about the appropriate use of drugs and devices.

The American Medical Association stated that it opposes unsuitable, unprincipled connections between doctors and the industry. However, there are relationships that can help advance patient care and educate doctors, it says.

Together, companies spent $803.49 million in royalty or licensing payments and $369.44m in consulting fees. Expenses for beverages, food, travel and accommodation amounted to $403.64m. The details of the outlays also indicate some payments for miscellaneous 'entertainment', including a $65 massage at an airport.

Individual firms are named and shamed under the Act. Pfizer paid $287.4m to doctors and teaching hospitals, while GlaxoSmithKline who paid $213.1m.

However Pfizer states that more than three-quarters of its payments were for research activities, reimbursing doctors and institutions for their help conducting clinical trials.

And GlaxoSmithKline stated that it practices were for “appropriate engagement with health-care professionals” and that they believe their overall payments will decrease as they will be discontinuing payment to outside doctors by 2016.

Overall, the global industry figures show European companies accounted for 23% of the fees paid in total. This figure indicates European companies such as paid $435m, far more than larger US companies such as Pfizer and Merck.

Yasmita Kumar

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