An unusual joint hearing of two committees in the Minnesota legislature - the Commerce and Labor and the Business, Industry and Jobs committees - will take place today to debate three bills designed to improve doctors' prescribing skills, reduce the influence of pharmaceutical companies and perhaps reduce overall drug spending by consumers.
The undertaking pits a recently formed advocacy group, the Minnesota Prescription Coalition, which favors evidence-based prescribing, fewer conflicts of interest issues in medical field, and reduced spending on prescription drugs, against an array of drugmakers and doctors, including some from the Association of Clinical Researchers and Educators, who claim their relationship with industry results in better patient care.
The proposed bills would strengthen a ban on gifts that drugmakers can give doctors (see the bill); prohibit drugmakers from buying prescribing records and using the info to target marketing to individual docs (otherwise known as data mining - see the bill here), and create an academic detailing program to provide prescribers with "objective info on prescription drugs, based on the best available evidence-based science" (here is the bill). Such programs exist in Pennsylvania and New York, while datamining caused a ruckus in Vermont (see here).
"If we can save money in the long run and improve quality and safety in prescribing, I think that's a pretty good combination," said Peter Wyckoff, a coalition spokesman, tells The Minneapolis Star-Tribune. He adds that docs have little time to sift through clinical trials and journal articles, but crave "unbiased" info.
But Marjorie Powell, senior assistant general counsel for the drug industry group PhRMA, says the bill is overkill. "Right now if insurance companies know there's a generic available, then that's what actually get dispensed to patients," she tells the paper. "Two-thirds of all prescriptions filled in the US are with generic drugs, so it's not clear that an (education) program is of any value to physicians."