NEWS24 March 2010

Obama’s healthcare law brings good news for survey researchers

Government North America

US— Opinions may be split over the healthcare law signed by President Barack Obama this week, but for survey researchers the passage of the bill marked a significant victory.

Buried within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, a previously stand-alone piece of legislation that called for mandatory reporting of payments made by drugs companies and medical device manufacturers to doctors.

Though intended to alleviate concerns over undue influence in the healthcare profession, the original wording of the Sunshine Act risked forcing doctors to disclose payments they received for taking part in survey research.

However, lobbying by the Marketing Research Association (MRA), the Council of American Survey Research Organisations and the Pharmaceutical Marketing Research Group (PMRG) succeeded in bringing about an amendment to the act to exclude survey incentives from the reporting requirements.

According to the MRA the bill excludes “a transfer of anything of value that is made indirectly to a covered recipient through a third party in connection with an activity or service in the case where the applicable manufacturer is unaware of the identity of the covered recipient.”

In basic terms, the association explains, “this means that as long as marketing research is conducted by an independent survey and opinion research company and the manufacturer sponsoring the research does not know who participates in the study, incentives can still be offered as a thank you to physicians who participate in research”.

PMRG government affairs chair Bill Little said: “Public disclosure would have adversely impacted our ability to recruit physician respondents, potentially biased the responses of physicians whom we did recruit, and advertised to manufacturers the otherwise anonymous identities of survey participants.”

A survey conducted last year by Market Probe and e-Rewards suggested that almost one third of physicians would have been put off participating in market research studies had the law passed in its original form.

Still, the passage of the Sunshine Act doesn’t necessarily mean the end to lobbying efforts at the state level, where some legislators are attempting to bring in more restrictive laws. The PMRG believes that the federal act will, at a minimum, “establish an insight and a guideline for state legislators and regulatory agencies in this area”, while the MRA says further state legislation and litigation is likely.

To date 20 states have introduced legislation requiring the disclosure of corporate gifts given to doctors, while in Vermont gifts have been banned altogether. Industry lobbying efforts have had some success in securing clarification to laws in Massachusetts and Minnesota so as to exempt survey incentives.


1 Comment

13 years ago

My starting point with legislation is the assumption that if it is good for society then it is good for research (even if the immediate impact on research is not helpful). In his Wealth of Nations Adam Smith pointed out that healthcare cannot operate as a free market because of the imbalance of power and knowledge between the buyer and the seller. I think that in that context, requiring doctors to file a return declaring all payments has to be a good thing. Buyers of doctor's services would be better served if they knew of all other payments. If such declarations became the norm, I would expect the long term effect on co-operation to be minimal (but it might drive incentives even higher). But, in my opinion we ought to put our short-term interests before those of society in general and buyers of doctors' services in particular. Indeed, I think we are moving towards a society were openness and transparency will be the norm in most sectors.

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