An effort by Senate President Therese Murray to ban gifts from pharmaceutical companies to Massachusetts doctors resulted yesterday in a compromise with House lawmakers that will not ban gifts, but requires that any gifts or payments of $50 or more to health care professionals be reported to the state and posted by the Department of Health on a public website.
The compromise is in sync with a trend in public disclosure policies that Harvard political scientist Archon Fung discusses in the current issue of CommonWealth magazine. Fung, a co-author of the 2007 book Full Disclosure: The Perils and Promise of Transparency, says that rather than adopting policies that set fixed standards that must be met, policymakers are increasingly opting instead to simply require disclosure of information that can then be used by the public to govern decisions or choices. "Now, for better or for worse," says Fung, "there’s much more of a premium on people being able to make decisions and choices for themselves."
For such transparency policies to work, however, Fung says the information disclosure has to prompt changes in behavior by either those mandated to disclose information or by the public that now has access to it. Advocates of the measure passed by the Legislature say the public has a right to know whether a doctor prescribing a particular drug has received gifts from the company that makes it. The question to ask, if the bill becomes law, is, will the public be interested enough to look up this information and modify their health care provider choices based on it? And will drug companies and doctors change their practices of giving - and accepting - gifts once they're required to disclose them?