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Big business: Doctors and pharmaceutical companies

By Matthew Smith, Good Morning El Paso Weekend Anchor / Reporter
Published On: Jan 21 2013 08:09:20 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 14 2014 09:41:24 PM CST

ABC-7s Matthew Smith reports.

EL PASO -

Every year, millions of dollars are spent on doctors by pharmaceutical companies.

Those payments range from speaking engagements to research and education. According to ProPublica, an independent non-profit research newsroom geared to investigative journalism, more than $220 million was spent by large pharmaceutical companies to promotional speakers for their products. The data show more than $59 million spent in the state of Texas, an impressive number considering only 12 companies have revealed information to ProPublica, according to its most recent information online.

El Paso is one of many cities with pages and pages of local doctors accepting payments. Dozens of payments over $10,000 can be found, with some doctors making much more.

"It effects them (the patients) very positively," said Dr. Rajendra Marwah. "If you are treating rheumatoid arthritis with antique drugs, and I bring out the new drugs and the patient can get almost a remission of the disease, hey, I'm all for that. That is what I'm here for."

An online database shows Dr. Marwah has obtained the most money from pharmaceutical companies that reported payments to ProPublica. Between speaking engagements, travel, and meals Dr. Marwah has gained more than $135,000.

"If we give a talk and get paid for it, that's purely based on the research that we have done," said Dr. Marwah.

The question that is often associated with such payments is whether this would incline a doctor to prescribe medicines from companies that they work for. Dr. Marwah said it wouldn't be an issue in his case, because he does a lot of work in research, meaning the companies he represents have the best medicine around. He also added that his relationship with companies allow him to get hold of samples that he can give to patients who couldn't otherwise afford the medication he prescribes.

While Dr. Marwah had no issue with the disclosure of his payments, pharmaceutical companies themselves have not always been so forthcoming. But beginning in late 2013, a major overhaul of the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) will change how pharmaceutical companies report payments to doctors. A portion of the ACA is titled the "Physician Payment Sunshine Act." That act will require all payments to doctors over $10 to be reported. However, there will be several key items that remain the same:

- Samples are meant for patient use only and cannot be resold
- A loan of medical devices does not have to be reported unless lent for more than 90 days
- Discounts and rebates
- Payments less than $10 that amount to less than $100 over the course of a year

Potential patients in El Paso said they don't mind the payments as long as they get the care they need.

"Just as long as people are getting their meds, and doctors are getting a little something on the side," said Bill Barron.

If you'd like to see whether your doctor receives payments from the companies who have already reported payments to ProPublica, you can find that information online. It's organized by county, but you can also search your doctor's name on the website:

 

http://projects.propublica.org/docdollars/states/texas?order=city&page=11

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