Everyone likes free stuff, and your doctor is no exception.
But when those gifts come from a big drug company, they come with strings attached: prescribe our drugs... prescribe them more often... and prescribe them for more people.
Soon, it's going to be easier than ever to figure out if your doc is on the wrong end of one of these arrangements -- because every drug company with even a single product covered by Medicare will have to report every last penny they give to doctors.
Doesn't matter if it's a $50,000 speaking fee for being a "thought leader" or a $50 lunch for his office staff -- it has to be reported to the feds, who will then place it online for the world to see.
This has been a long time coming, but your doctor probably can't figure out why. He thinks he can't be influenced -- that he might get a gift or cash from Big Pharma, but he can still think for himself.
The track record says otherwise: Docs who get cash and prizes from drug companies are more likely to use that company's drugs and are even more likely to use them off-label for unapproved conditions.
One Big Pharma rep told NPR in 2010 that he could pay a doctor $1,500 to deliver a short presentation prepared by the company -- and the following week that doctor will write up to $200,000 in new prescriptions for his company's drugs.
That's one heck of a return on investment.
So, starting later this month, you'll be able to search a federal database and see who's giving your doc what -- from those mutually lucrative speaking fees to a cheap lunch.
Companies that fail to report payments and other gifts will be on the hook for fines of $10,000 per violation -- but with a cap of $1 million a year, that alone is probably not enough to get the industry's attention.
After all, drug companies routinely pay hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars in fines. Next to that, a million bucks is a bargain -- the kind of spare change they might find in the CEO's sofa cushions.
But the new law has some other penalties that could turn out to be a lot harsher than any dollar amount: A senior official -- the CEO, CFO or the chief compliance officer -- is going to be held responsible for the accuracy of each report.
And if it's got a few missing pieces, he could face some consequences.
Fines might not get their attention -- but that sure will.