Flow of Freebies to Doctors

ICAAC: Gift Ban Law Fails to Stanch Freebie Flow

By John Gever, Senior Editor, MedPage Today Reviewed by September 16, 2010

Review

BOSTON -- The Massachusetts' ban on industry freebies created barely a ripple here at Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC) as pens, sticky notes, candies and other small gift items were still freely available in the exhibit hall, although big pharma was usually not picking up the tab.

Rules issued last year prohibit pharmaceutical and medical device companies from giving noneducational gifts to physicians, including such iconic marketing items as logo heavy paper pads, pens, and coffee mugs.

The rules also ban companies from providing free entertainment such as concert and sports tickets and, under some circumstances, free meals. It requires that companies disclose all payments to physicians and other providers in excess of $50.

In addition, CME credits cannot be awarded unless the activities meet standards set by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME).

Although some organizations have worried that they wouldn't be allowed to offer CME credits for conference attendance in Massachusetts, most ICAAC sessions -- mainly excepting posters -- were eligible for CME.

And the pens, sticky notes, etc. were usually courtesy of publishers, diagnostic laboratories, and others not covered by the so-called Massachusetts gift ban.

However, a few freebies were still available from drug firms. One company marketing a version of the antibiotic drug minocycline was handing out tote bags bearing the product's logo. A sales representative said he was unaware of regulations preventing Massachusetts-licensed physicians from taking them.

Officials of the American Society of Microbiology, ICAAC's sponsor, declined to comment for the record on the regulations' impact on exhibitor support or attendance, although one told MedPage Today privately that it had been negligible.

Drug and device companies with exhibit booths here also declined to comment.

Jim Rooney, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA), which runs the major conference facilities in Boston, said the regulations have had "minimal impact" on the state's medical meeting traffic.

"While we did see a drop in attendance in medical/life science events last year (when the law was enacted), this is attributable more to the downturn in the economy than the new pharma law," Rooney said in a statement for MedPage Today.

With more than three months remaining in 2010, total attendance at MCCA-hosted medical and life science events this year has been 126,490. For all of 2009, total attendance was 152,998, the statement indicated.

Earlier this year, the authority boasted that convention traffic overall was growing by leaps and bounds.

"2012 is expected to break all Boston records for meeting and convention business, with a scheduled 613,000 room nights," according to an MCCA press release.

Rooney noted that BIO, the biotechnology trade organization, plans to hold its annual meeting in Boston in 2012. He said the organization had indicated it would like to put the city on a three-year rotation of cities to hold its meetings, but the Boston facility would need to be larger.

"The law has created more work for the sales people in terms of explaining what the law means and how their event would be impacted. But even since the new law was enacted, we've had several with record-breaking attendance, including the annual Yankee Dental [meeting]," Rooney said.

Nevertheless, some in the state have sought to overturn the ban. A repeal amendment passed the state's House of Representatives this summer, but it was removed from the overall bill, which dealt with economic development, before final passage.

The amendment's chief sponsor said restaurant owners had complained that the regulations were eating into their business. One of the provisions bars drug and device companies from providing meals to physicians, except as part of approved CME events.

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