Five and a half years ago, I entered the Senate Hart Building to work with lawyers and draft a bill we later called the Physician Payments Sunshine Act—a law that would require companies to report any monies they provided to doctors. The law was enacted a few weeks ago.
When first discussing the bill, I listened as an executive explained that compliance would cost huge amounts of money as his company scrambled to account for all the money they gave to doctors. “Is this what you want to tell your investors?” I asked. “You want to tell them that you're shoveling so much money out the door to doctors that you can't even account for all of it?”
With enough pressure, industry eventually lined up behind the bill. But it took time—time and an enormous amount of pressure brought to bear by investigators working for Senator Charles Grassley. Was all this stress ever really needed? Industry and physicians need to work together to produce lifesaving medical products. But this relationship has been perverted to the point that some doctors have become product salesmen, with profits replacing patients as their top consideration. This change puts lives at risk—not just the lives of product consumers, but also the lives of people in the pharmaceutical industry. They and their family members also see doctors. And people in the industry who have created this process in medicine must be worried about the type of care doctors are now giving. As industry moves forward to comply with the new law, I think that everyone agrees this was for the best. Profits are great. But people are more important.
Paul Thacker, formerly an investigator for Sen. Grassley, is a lab fellow at Harvard's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and an advisor to nonprofits and foundations.