Administration Moves Gift-Ban Vote To News-Dump Day

In 2008, Massachusetts passed a highly restrictive ban on pharmaceutical and medical-device companies giving gifts to physicians. This year, industry interests succeeded in easing those rules. Wording to allow those companies to give doctors "modest" meals and refreshments was tucked into the budget that passed in July, and in October the Public Health Council (under the state's Department of Public Health) issued draft regulations on how to interpret that pliable term "modest."

All that's left is for the Public Health Council to take a final vote on the regulations. It appears that will happen tomorrow, at the next Council meeting -- which was recently rescheduled from last Friday, the 16th, to the 21st, which happens to be the day before Thanksgiving. That's an absolute vacuum of news attention.

Some opponents of loosening the gift ban allege that this is no coincidence, and that the Deval Patrick administration is trying to avoid controversy for a cave-in to industry lobbyists. Actually, the postponement appears to have been prompted by Dr. Lauren Smith, DPH interim commissioner, going to Washington last week for a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing.

Nevertheless, the result is likely to be little attention for the vote, and the final version of the regulations. But that might have been inevitable anyway, as the DPH is currently teeming with controversies, from the meningitis fiasco to the crime-lab scandal (which led to the resignation of commissioner John Auerbach). The doctor gift ban regulations pale in comparison.

But to those who care, it's a big deal. Here's the posted agenda for tomorrow morning's meeting; a vote on the final regs is #4.


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