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Legislators Seek Gift Ban Repeal
Vol. 816 
May 17, 2011

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The Massachusetts House of Representatives has voted to repeal a statewide pharmaceutical gift ban that prohibits drug companies from entertaining physicians with meals and providing them with promotional products. Lawmakers who support the repeal argue the ban has hurt convention centers and restaurants where companies typically have hosted physician events and dinners. "We need every opportunity possible in order to generate revenue for our economy," said State Representative Todd Smola, who is in favor of repealing the ban.

The House-approved measure would repeal not only a ban on gifts but also a requirement that forces companies to report any payments to physicians that are more than $50. The repeal, passed by a considerable 136-vote margin, is tied to the House's 2012 budget proposal and still faces scrutiny in the Massachusetts Senate, which just last year blocked efforts to overturn the ban. Those who oppose the repeal point to an increase in the state's collected meals tax as proof the ban is not harming Massachusetts' hospitality industry. By mid-March of this year, the state had collected about $607 million in meals taxes for fiscal 2011 (which ends in June), a 9% jump compared to 2010.

Supporters of the repeal, however, contend the ban has driven away from Massachusetts two major medical conventions, including the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. The event, held this year in San Francisco, annually draws more than 5,000 attendees. Critics also say the current Massachusetts' law, which was passed in 2008, is one of the strictest in the nation and goes unnecessarily further than federal legislation like the Physician Payment Sunshine Act.

The Massachusetts' Senate is expected to vote on a separate budget proposal next month. While it's possible the Senate could include the repeal language in its proposal, the odds remain long as key leaders staunchly support the gift ban.

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