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Gift ban expansion, clarification

Published (2/18/2010)
By Lauren Radomski
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Relationships between physicians and pharmaceutical companies are coming under greater scrutiny.

HF1641 would expand and clarify a current ban on gifts from pharmaceutical manufacturers and drug distributors to physicians. Sponsored by Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester), the legislation would continue to allow physicians to work with companies on drug and technology research, but would set new rules for reporting financial relationships.

Liebling, who successfully amended the bill to exclude medical device manufacturers from the ban, said the legislation would “add a layer of transparency” to interaction between physicians and pharmaceuticals.

The House Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee heard the bill Feb. 16. It was held over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.

Committee members heard from Kim Witczak, whose 37-year-old husband, Timothy “Woody” Witczak, committed suicide in 2003 after five weeks on the anti-depressant Zoloft. Woody went to his physician for help treating insomnia, an off-label use of Zoloft, and received a sample pack of the drug that doubled the dosage after one week of use, Witczak said. She claimed Woody was not informed of the need to be closely monitored when starting the drug.

“I believe this influence, which includes gifts, played a role in Woody being prescribed Zoloft off-label, which ultimately led to his death,” said Witczak, who has spent the past several years researching on her own the influence of pharmaceuticals on physicians.

Under Liebling’s bill, companies would need to report financial relationships with physicians to the Department of Health. For their part, physicians would need to tell a patient about a relationship with a particular company before prescribing the company’s product.

Opponents claim Minnesota already has one of the strictest gift bans in the country. Don Gerhardt, CEO and president of the trade association LifeScience Alley, said companies would prefer one set of federal guidelines on the topic, instead of different regulations among states.

“Do not throw an additional hoop for these organizations to jump through,” he said, adding that federal regulations are part of stalled health care reform efforts.

A companion, SF1237, sponsored by Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville), awaits action by the Senate Business, Industry and Jobs Committee.

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