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Let the sun shine: Legislation would publicly disclose physician-industry relationships

Most of the health-policy news out of Washington has focused on the recently passed stimulus package and the search for a new Secretary of Health and Human Services; largely lost in the news cycle has been the reintroduction of conflict-of-interest legislation that would impact companies and physicians.

Under the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, pharmaceutical and medical device companies with at least $100 million in annual revenues would be required to publicly disclose gifts and payments to physicians that exceed $100. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), was introduced amidst growing concern about the influence of industry gifts - even small ones - on a doctor's prescribing habits.

"Gift giving creates a reciprocal obligation that is a powerful force, and pharmaceutical companies know this very well," David Magnus, PhD, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, commented to me last year.

Several states, including Minnesota, have already adopted physician-industry disclosure laws, and some academic medical centers, including Stanford, have outright banned industry gifts to doctors. Just yesterday, Pfizer announced plans to disclose all payments of more than $500 made to physicians and other health professionals.

The legislation (S301) has been sponsored by numerous organizations, including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and Kohl recently said he was confident the bill would pass this session.

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