Two mental health advocacy groups plan to lobby lawmakers for more transparency in the relationship between Vermont's medical field and the pharmaceutical industry,The Rutland Herald reports.
Two months ago, the Vermont Attorney General's Office issued its annual report on gifts and donations from drugmakers to Vermont docs and medical professionals, but critics say the report is incomplete and hard to access. Ken Libertoff, who heads the Vermont Association for Mental Health, argues a trade secret clause in state law allows some docs to mask the amount of money they receive.
The report showed that Vermont doctors received $3.1 million in gifts and donations from the pharmaceutical and medical industry - an increase of 33 percent over the previous year. But some info is not included, because it falls under the trade secret clause in the original law - including the identities of about 11 doctors in the state who accepted gifts totaling about $630,000 in 2007.
Tom Simpatico, the president of Vermont Psychiatric Association, joined Libertoff at a press conference and agrees that a complete and more detailed report would better help professionals and patients. And he supports Libertoff's call to strip the trade secrets provision from state law and to transform the report into an online and searchable database.
"This is what doctors are exposed to today," Simpatico said. "And it raises the possibility that it has some influence on their prescribing patterns."
Assistant Attorney General Julie Brill defended the report, saying it is informative and contains a wealth of data on the relationship between the industry and doctors. She also noted that Vermont was ahead of the curve in bringing transparency to this issue and now other states are following suit.
But she adds officials might be open to changes. In anticipation of possible new legislation when lawmakers return to Montpelier in January, internal discussions over the future of the trade secrets provision in the Attorney General's Office have begun, according to Brill.
That provision was included in the law because legislators and state officials were concerned that drugmakers would sue over its constitutionality based on case law at the time, Brill explained.
"I don't really see a problem with putting this information online as long as it was complete," she tells the paper. "It wouldn't make sense to have only half of the information accessible because it could be very misleading to the public."
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, who was one of the sponsors of the original bill that became Vermont's disclosure law, said the "trade secrets loophole" was added during the legislative process, but he is now drafting new legislation to remove it. But he says it may be a tough bill to pass next year because the pharma lobby is strong and carries influence over both major political parties.
"The bill got watered down by the well-funded pharma lobby on its way to the governor's desk," Shumlin tells the paper. "We have an obligation to fix this, because otherwise this disclosure is essentially useless."
PhRMA could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Libertoff, whose Vermont organization swore off pharmaceutical funding last year, says one of his goals is to "change the environment" by calling on leaders in the field to follow in his footsteps.
His concern is that the donations and gifts to doctors — which usually come in the form of dinners or trips to warmer climates for lectures or conventions hosted by the drug companies — can influence their prescribing patterns. "We don't want to find out next year that the industry gave $4.5 million to Vermont doctors," Libertoff says.