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Bill requires companies to report gifts to doctors

STEVE LEBLANC

Pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers would have to report any gifts to doctors over $50 under a compromise version of a health care cost reform bill designed to slow soaring health spending in Massachusetts.

The bill also requires hospitals and doctors adopt a statewide electronic record-keeping system by 2015. It mandates hospitals report all hospital-acquired infections. The bill also bans them from charging for so-called “never events” such as wrong-side surgeries.

The Senate version of the bill had included an outright ban on all gifts from pharmaceutical companies to doctors, but the House stripped out the ban. The final version is seen as a compromise.

The bill was enacted by both branches last Thursday and sent to Gov. Deval Patrick.

Senate President Therese Murray said the goal of the bill is to help slow spiraling health care spending. The rising costs threaten the future of the state’s landmark 2006 health care law that requires nearly everyone in the state be insured.

Murray said health care spending in Massachusetts has soared from $46.5 billion in 2002 to $62.1 billion in 2003, a 33 percent jump in four years.

“With this legislation we will install an impressive number of health care reforms,” Murray said, unveiling the bill’s final language on the last day of the state Legislature’s formal session.

The gift ban had been a key sticking point between the two legislative chambers.

Under the compromise language, the state Department of Public Health would take the industry’s own “marketing code of conduct” as the starting point for writing regulations covering all pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers operating in Massachusetts.

The bill also requires that companies and manufacturers disclose to the department the “value, nature, purpose and particular recipient” of fees or gifts over $50 made to “any physician, hospital, nursing home, pharmacist” or other health provider.

Violators could face fines of up to $5,000.

The companies say the language is so all-encompassing it will make it impossible for them to conduct research in the state, because they will be required to publicly tip their hand.

“We believe the compromise language adopted today by the conference committee could have grave consequences on both the future of clinical research in the state of Massachusetts and patient health in general,” the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said in a statement last Thursday.

State Sen. Richard Moore, D-Uxbridge, co-chair of a joint health care financing committee, defended the language and said he wished the bill had included the outright ban on all gifts.

Supporters say the gifts help drive up health care costs by encouraging doctors to prescribe more expensive brand name prescription drugs.

“It’s not the absolute ban that we had started with, but it’s a good middle ground,” he said.

Other highlights of the bill include:

• Setting a statewide standard for uniform billing and coding among health care providers and insurance companies;

• Increasing the number of primary care doctors by expanding enrollment at the University of Massachusetts Medical School for students looking to go into primary care;

• Requiring pharmacies disclose any time they improperly dispense of drugs resulting in serious injury or death.

House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi said that by reining in costs, the bill will help guarantee the success of the 2006 health care law.

“We need to do something about transparency, about eliminating inefficiencies in the health care system,” DiMasi said. “This bill will go a long way toward accomplishing that.”

(Associated Press)