Lawmakers Want to Separate Drugmakers & Doctors

Three proposals by Minnesota lawmakers aim to further regulate the relationships between doctors and pharmaceutical companies.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota lawmakers plan to go after the pharmaceutical industry's relationship with doctors again this year, according to proposals outlined Monday.

The proposals include legislation to block drug companies' access to physicians' prescribing data for marketing purposes. Another would create an academic drug-vetting program to take that responsibility away from pharmaceutical representatives.

All three bills were introduced last year and remain alive before legislative committees in the session that starts next week. The third bill would tighten an existing gift ban for drug companies, lowering the limit from $50 to about $5, and require medical device manufacturers and distributors to report compensation payments to physicians.

Minnesota was among the first states to require drug companies to report payments to doctors for lectures, consulting, research and other services, revealing lucrative arrangements between some physicians and drug makers.

A watchdog group called the Minnesota Prescription Program is now pushing to tighten state laws over drug and medical device makers. Pete Wyckoff, the group's head, said the companies hold too much sway over prescribing decisions.

"It's almost like a third person sitting in that examining room, influencing your doctor to prescribe more of what their company is doing or to switch to their brand," Wyckoff said.

The general counsel for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America warned that the legislation could cause problems for the industry, which supports 49,000 jobs in the state.

"The package of legislative proposals could have a chilling effect on Minnesota's life sciences industry," said Marjorie Powell of Washington-based PhRMA.

Powell said the proposals would make it harder to identify doctors whose patients could benefit from innovative new drugs and limit doctor participation in clinical trials, a key step in bringing new drugs to market.

The data mining bill would prohibit drug companies from buying or using prescribing data on individual doctors to target their marketing. Supporters said it would save money by reducing use of newer and more expensive drugs.

The Independent Prescriber Education Program would have independent pharmacists or nurses teach doctors about prescription drugs. Wyckoff said the program would cost about $1 million a year, money that could come from fees on drug companies.