Pharma Beats Sunshine Act to the Punch

Feb 11, 2009

Pfizer said Monday it will start reporting the bucks they shell out to doctors each year. Dollars spent on clinical trials, consulting gigs, speeches, meals, and gifts will all be tallied and posted to the company’s Web site for all to see.

Pfizer pledged to disclose payments that total more than $500 yearly, including non-monetary items whose value exceeds $25.

“We think this disclosure is actually a natural progression of the work we’ve already done in the area of transparency,” said Kristen Neese, a Pfizer spokeswoman. “Publicly sharing these details in a uniform manner is the best way to provide a complete picture of what our relationships are with doctors.” 

The first update will be posted online in early 2010, and will include payments from July 2009 onward. 

Pfizer joins a few other companies on the pharma transparency bandwagon. Late last year, Eli Lilly, Merck, and GlaxoSmithKline all announced that they would divulge the info. 

At present, each company is setting its own rules. Last month, however, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) introduced the Physician Payments Sunshine Act of 2009, which, if passed, would require all pharma and biotech companies to divulge such information. Those that failed to comply would incur a $1 million dollar fine. The only difference between the Sunshine Act and Pfizer’s plan is the amount—Grassley and Kohl say all payments over $100 should reported.

“Shedding light on industry payments to physicians would be good for the system,” Grassley said in a press release. “Transparency fosters accountability, and the public has a right to know about financial relationships.”

The new number is an update from a similar 2007 bill that set a $500 reporting requirement. The old version never made it through Congress. 

Dr. Ted Epperly, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said the new version approaches micromanagement. “It’s a bit regressive. It goes backwards instead of forwards in terms of reporting requirements,” said Epperly. “We agree that we ought to have transparency, openness and honesty on this, [but] there can be a point where it just crosses the line of being too burdensome.”

But Big Pharma won’t have a choice if the bill is pushed through. And with the state of the economy, and President Obama promoting transparency in big business, this time around the Sunshine Act could gain more momentum.