ACCME sees more criticism of pharma-sponsored continuing medication education

Labor unions want an end to pharma-sponsored CME

A board meeting of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (Chicago) will receive today (July 16) a petition from Unite Here (New York), a major US/Canadian labor union group, calling for it to cease accepting funding from the pharma industry for CME, according to a press release issued by the group. “Prescription drugs, devices, and biologicals are a major factor in rising healthcare costs and the union is concerned doctors may be unduly influenced by contributions from Big Pharma to prescribe more expensive drugs when more affordable, generic alternatives are available.”

Unite Here cites the fresh data from the CMS Open Payments system, noting that all interactions (including CME) between industry and physicians totaled $6.49 billion in 2014; an ACCME report, also cited, stated that industry-sponsored CME was $675 million out of a total expenditure of $2.5 billion in that year.

The petition is just the latest in an ongoing campaign by Unite Here; it also sponsors a website, NoMoreDrugMoney.org. There is something of a history of labor union involvement in criticism of pharma commercial practices; for example, a Massachusetts labor union was involved in the $190-million settlement between the Dept. of Justice, McKesson and First Databank over alleged price manipulation in 2012. Many unions self-sponsor healthcare plans.

Even so, there seems to be a particular onus being borne by the pharma industry among labor unions. First, generic drug utilization is approaching 90% across the US healthcare system; the days when branded drugs were prescribed willy-nilly when equivalent generics are available have faded dramatically. Second, CME took a big hit in 2006 when ACCME, under widespread pressure, revamped its accreditation practices and made industry-sponsored CME more restrictive (details at ACCME’s site here); and while industry funds a third of today’s CME, there is a constant complaint among medical professionals that not enough ongoing education of new medical practices is occurring. Moreover, Unite Here carefully steps around its own stake in medical education: many hospitality workers are part of this union, and would presumably gain more employment from more events. “CME activities are a vital source of revenue and jobs in the hospitality industry. UNITE HERE has communicated broadly with leaders in medical industry about best practices for supporting good hospitality jobs,” says its news release.