"A government watchdog will tell Congress Wednesday that the pharmaceutical and medical device industries' billion-dollar spending spree for medical education is threatening the judgment of physicians across the country," The Associated Press
reports. "Nearly all U.S. physicians are required to take continuing education classes to keep their medical certification. Professional societies like the American College of Cardiology and dozens of others sponsor conferences each year on the latest treatments. Over the past 10 years, drug and device companies have increased their funding for such meetings by over 300 percent, according to industry figures. Companies now provide more than half of the $2.5 billion spent annually on medical education. An inspector for the Department of Health and Human Services will tell Senate lawmakers today that tighter restrictions are needed to keep pharmaceutical companies from using that money to steer physicians toward prescribing their drugs. While companies are not permitted to present at meetings, they can shape the discussions by pouring millions of dollars into select topics, according to the inspector."
Senate Aging Committee Chairman Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Ia., are co-sponsoring a bill "that would require companies to disclose all payments to physicians over $100." The Aging Committee will hold a hearing on the issue today. The Senators hope to include their bill, called the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, in the health care overhaul. "Earlier this year the American Medical Association said that medical education should ideally be funded by organizations that don't have a financial stake in courting physicians — although it stopped short of recommending a ban on industry money… The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association said Tuesday it has not taken a position on the idea" (Perrone, 7/29).