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August 22, 2008

Business View

Patrick dropped the ball on health care

By: Tom Stossel

Gov. Deval Patrick missed an opportunity to burnish his image as a champion of his state's thriving biomedical enterprise when he signed a broad-ranging health care bill passed by his Legislature.

The bill in question contains certifiably onerous provisions directing the state's Department of Health to record and publicize every financial transaction over $50 between physicians and private companies that produce products used by physicians.

The law requires that companies justify the scientific merit of such transactions and directs the department to refer what it deems inappropriate payment cases to the attorney general for legal prosecution.

Organizations representing medical product companies appropriately if vainly opposed these measures, citing their anti-competitive and industry-demonizing elements.

Let's start with the facts.

The many examples of incredible progress in medicine during my 40-year career in medicine did not happen because of the moral purity or abstract altruism of physicians. Rather, those advancements occurred because physicians worked freely and for financial compensation with private companies in a manner consistent with standard business practices to develop and, yes, market products that enabled physicians to work far more effectively than in the past.

Second, the claim by scolds on the sidelines that corporate payments have corrupted physicians and encouraged them to value profit over the interests of their patients is not only blatantly false but mean-spirited and grossly insulting to highly educated and hardworking professionals.

Third, the law wrongly purports to contain health care costs. Products made by private companies account for one-tenth of total health care expenditures, and these are rising more slowly than prices of hospitals and physician services. The majority of prescriptions written by physicians today are for generic products. Indeed, the administration of the new law will add unnecessary expense.

Surveys have shown that patients don't care who pays physicians and how much or who buys them lunch. And the ultimate purpose of the proponents of this legislation is to impose state control over all product marketing. In addition, the proposed compilation of payments is an open invitation to frivolous "failure to warn" litigation when some prescribed products lead to inevitable side effects.

Coercive state intervention is generally in retreat everywhere except Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela - and regulation of medicine by the state of Massachusetts. Gov. Patrick should have taken his state off the list. Dr. Tom Stossel is the American Cancer Society Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the director of the translational medicine division and a senior physician within the hematology division at Brigham & Women's Hospital.

©2008 Boston Business Journal



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