U.S. Senators Mel Martinez (R-FL) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) of the Special Committee on Aging held a hearing today to address the issue of transparency in physician-industry financial relationships. Among the hearing's topics were the industry's involvement in continuing medical education and its potential use as a method for promoting "off-label" prescribing. The senators heard from witnesses about different ways to achieve balance between appropriate industry involvement in continuing medical education while mitigating unethical and illegal promotion.
"To stay current in the medical field and to maintain a medical license, doctors devote substantial time to develop their medical knowledge and skills through continuing medical education," said Martinez, the lead Republican on the Senate's Special Committee on Aging. "Sometimes the line between medical education and improper promotion of products for "off-label" uses can be blurred, raising questions about patient well-being and stewardship of taxpayer dollars, such as through Medicaid. This is why transparency and appropriate, commonsense safeguards are necessary."
Earlier this year, Senator Martinez introduced a Medicaid transparency effort to make all Medicaid payments to providers public, making it easier to identify potentially fraudulent billing. The Medicaid Accountability through Transparency or "MAT" act will provide transparency in billing for services and medical equipment by requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to disclose the Medicaid payment data it already collects on a public-accessible Web site. The MAT act is consistent with the goal of Senators Kohl and Grassley's (R-IA) measure, the Physician Payments Sunshine act."
"Patients rely on doctors to sift through all options of treatment and use that information to make sound judgments about the benefits and risks of certain medical procedures, drugs, and devices they are recommending for their patients and ultimately charging Medicare and Medicaid for," said Martinez. "Disclosing payments to doctors, be they from Medicaid or from pharmaceutical companies, allows the public to reach their own conclusions about the appropriateness of such payment arrangements. Transparency needs to be the bedrock of our health care system."