Pharma's support of speaker programs has been 'slashed,' says ProPublica


Industry appears to be realigning spending ahead of the Sunshine Act

Since 2010, ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative-journalism concern, has put pharma’s promotional spending under the spotlight in its “Dollars for Docs” initiative. In its latest reporting on the topic, the group says that spending by leading pharma companies has plummeted, down by double-digit percentages between 2011 and 2012: Lilly, -55%; Pfizer, -62%; Novartis, -40%; GSK, -77%. In each case, the funding went from several tens of millions of dollars to roughly the $10-20-million range. While several companies (either voluntarily or as part of a corporate integrity agreement) have been making this funding publicly available, everyone—and then some—will have to under the Physicians’ Sunshine Act, part of the Affordable Care Act signed into law in 2010. Under those “aggregate spending” rules, all pharma companies, and others interacting with physicians, are due to report their 2013 spending to CMS this month, and the data will become publicly available this fall.

The kneejerk reaction to the spending reductions is to believe that pharma companies are getting their ducks in a row in anticipation of the law’s effects, but there are other trends to consider: a relative dearth of broadly prescribed new medicines; existing drugs going off patent; even the use of online seminars versus in-person speaking engagements. And funding of physician speakers is only one avenue of promotional spending for pharma; it is far outweighed by mass-market advertising, drug sampling and other programs.

Meanwhile, pharma companies have begun filing their agg-spend reports to CMS. Manny Tzavlakis, a partner at Huron Consulting Group (Chicago), says that many of its clients are grinding through the data-aggregation process right now, and that an emerging problem is not spending on promotional activities like speaker programs, but rather pharma support of clinical trials and research.

One thing’s for sure: Come September, a lot of doctors are going to be spending a lot of time talking about their presence on the agg-spend lists.

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