Drug Giants Disclose Payments to Physicians

March 31, 2011

Several major drug makers published data on payments made to physicians and other healthcare professionals this week, in an effort to address ethics and transparency concerns over how pharmaceutical companies market their products.

Several drug giants disclosed millions of dollars in payments made to physicians and other healthcare professionals this week, in an effort to address ethics and transparency concerns over how pharmaceutical companies market their products.

Merck & Co. Inc. said in a report out this week that it paid $20.4 million in 2010 to more than 2,000 U.S. physicians and others to discuss the company's products and speak about other medical issues with healthcare professionals.

According to Merck, 2,088 physicians and other healthcare professionals participated in an average of 5.9 programs each and earned an average of $1,659 per program in 2010. Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., posted the current data on payments to physicians on its website. Data from the second half of 2009 showed it paid $9.4 million to nearly 1,700 professionals.

Merck’s “Transparency Report” indicated that 27 physicians earned more than $40,000 in 2010, with the highest-paid physician, James Edward Barr, MD, of Flemington, N.J., earning $52,120.90 for participating in 20 promotional (non-CME) events.

“In 2012, our reports will be updated to include similar speaking activities relating to legacy Schering Plough and Merck/Schering Plough products as a result of the November 2009 merger between Merck and Schering-Plough,” according to a statement posted on Merck’s website. “In addition, by early 2012 we plan to begin disclosing payments made to U.S.-licensed physicians who perform certain consulting services for Merck.” The data don't include speaker programs tied to the Schering-Plough unit Merck acquired in November 2009.

Meanwhile, GlaxoSmikeKline PLC said on its website that it paid 5,331 healthcare professionals $56.8 million for speaking on behalf of its products, or for providing the company with advice. Like Merck, the U.K. drug giant began reporting physician payments in the second quarter of 2009.

In January 2010, Glaxo reduced payments to U.S. healthcare professionals, limiting speaker and advisory fees to a maximum of $100,000 a year for an individual, down from $150,000 the previous year. Most consultants receive fees that total less than $10,000 per year, the company said in its "2010 Corporate Responsibility Report."

And Pfizer Inc., based in New York, reported $34.4 million in speaking fees to roughly 4,600 healthcare professionals in 2010 on its website. Pfizer also said that $18 million was paid for meals provided to doctors in their offices by Pfizer sales representatives; $8.9 million was paid in professional advising fees to 1,400 doctors; $5.8 million was paid in travel expenses; and $1.7 million in education items.

Glaxo and Merck are among a number of major drug makers that voluntarily have begun disclosing physician-payment data in the wake of industry criticism over ethics and transparency concerning how drug makers market their products. Pfizer, along with Cephalon Inc. and Eli Lilly & Co., were forced to disclose the information as part of government settlements over allegedly improper marketing practices.

All drug makers will be required to begin reporting any physician payments worth more than $10 starting in 2012 under the federal Physician Payments Sunshine Act. The government will in turn make the data publicly available online in early 2013.

The federal law follows several state laws that are aimed at curbing drug industry influence over healthcare professionals. The attorney general of Vermont, one of three states that currently require payments disclosures, found that total payments to physicians dropped 13% in fiscal 2009 to $2.6 million, according to Kaiser Health News. began in 2002.