There is terrific scrutiny given the amount of money drugmakers pay physicians, but what about money funneled toward health advocacy organizations? The Senate Finance Committee launched a probe last year (see here), but now a new study has examined the issue through the prism of what just one drugmaker doles out.
A team of researchers examined the Eli Lilly grant registry data for the first two quarters of 2007 and disclosures made by 161 of the health advocacy groups that there were listed as having received funding. What did they find? Lilly gave more than $3.2 million in grants to HAOs during that six-month period, which amounted to 10 percent of all grants made. But only 25 percent of the groups that received Lilly grants acknowledged contributions on their sites, and only 10 percent acknowleged Lilly sponsored an event with a grant (here is the list of HAOs).
Not surprisingly, they also discovered that organizations laboring to improve the three main therapeutic areas served by Lilly - neuroscience, endocrinology and oncology, which accounted for 87 percent of the drugmaker's US sales - received 94 percent of the grants made by the drugmaker to all health advocacy groups that year. And the study, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health, concludes that the "lack of transparency is disappointing because, either by design or through a convergence of interests, the HAOs in the current study pursued activities that promoted the sale of Lilly products."
We asked Sheila Rothman, the lead author and a professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, more about why this matters and what suggestions she can offer. Here's what she had to say: "These HAO’s operate with a legacy of trust, so disclosure becomes important. Remember, they are 501c3 organization (which means they have tax-exempt status) but they're actually very effective lobbying organizations at both state and federal levels in helping to set policy.
"There’s nothing wrong with taking money from drug companies, but I think they do have an obliagtion to disclose. Their lobbying agenda is so closely aligned to drug companies - open formularies, greater access to drugs - that it becomes complicated. They owe it to the public to tell them who their donors are and why they are getting the money.
"You know, it can seems as if these are ordinary citizens lobbying, which legislators may suspect, but not really know that the companies help support these organizations. And the drug companies love them because they are very effective – a person talking about a disease is more effective than a lobbyist talking.
"Remember, none of these companies are giving money to these organizations because they’re nice guys. They’re in business and they believe they can help them. If their advocacy succeeds, Lilly makes money. It’s not a straight line, but it’s so close I think there has to be disclosure. And if they don’t want to disclose maybe they should mandate to disclose." What do you think?
Should Health Advocacy Groups Be Required To Disclose Funding?
- Yes (95%, 130 Votes)
- No (5%, 8 Votes)
Total Voters: 137