Journalism in the Public Interest

Massachusetts Posts Pharma Payments to Health Providers

This week, Massachusetts became the first state to post an online database of payments from drug and medical device companies to the state’s health care providers.


Massachusetts became the first state to post an online database of payments from drug and medical device companies to the state's health care providers.

This week, Massachusetts became the first state to post an online database of payments from drug and medical device companies to the state's health care providers. The searchable database covers reports from more than 280 companies and subsidiaries.

The new database, detailed on Monday by the Boston Globe -- one of our Dollars for Docs partners -- is a result of a 2008 state law regulating industry conduct. The database lists nearly $36 million spent from July through December of 2009 for speaking, consulting, food, educational programs, marketing studies and charitable donations.

Minnesota has for years posted similar payments in that state, but has not compiled each company's reports together into one database. Minnesota's list also does not include medical device manufacturers.

Dollars for Docs, our ongoing project examining the relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and physicians, captures payments for drug promotion and marketing across all states from seven major drug companies. The reports in Minnesota and Massachusetts are just snapshots of the national picture and, in the case of Massachusetts, a limited snapshot at that.

Massachusetts's law requires manufacturers to report their activities each July to cover the previous calendar year, from January through December. But compliance did not go into effect until July 1, 2009, so this first release covers only half of last year.

Drug and device companies do not necessarily spend money consistently throughout the year. For example, a search for Dr. Andrew G. Kowal in the Massachusetts database shows that he earned $11,324 from Eli Lilly and Co. in the six-month period covered. But Dollars for Docs shows that Lilly paid Dr. Kowal $48,200 in 2009 (Massachusetts's data does show Kowal received payments from companies not included in Dollars for Docs). So until next year, we won't really know how much these companies are spending in Massachusetts over the course of a year.

The Massachusetts data includes other kinds of payments, such as charitable donations and payouts to hospitals and clinics, which are not included in Dollars for Docs. The state's Office of Health and Human Services allows you to look at some prepared reports, do your own query, or even download the whole dataset from their site.

The patchwork of different reporting from state to state and company to company will end in 2013, when all drug companies will have to report their payments to the federal government.


Now if we could get some accurate numbers on the ratio of actual R&D vs marketing (including lobbying) money spent…
It’s immoral that people go without life-saving medication at the same time as millions is spent promoting the same medication.
It’s about time we learn just how money is spent on creating actual and needed medicine - as opposed to marketing for drugs of sometimes negligible value.

Richard McDonough

Nov. 23, 2010, 3:49 p.m.

Bravo.  A strong populist tradition, a good governor, and home of a great advocate for health care, John McDonough.  Light shed on the shameless may not help, but those still capable of shame might be affected.

And to believe that Massachusett’s health care is an ‘evil’ socialist program (like our Armed Forces, the US Post Office, and our public schools)! Makes you wonder what Capitalism is actually good for?

Joleen Chambers

Nov. 23, 2010, 9:17 p.m.

Orthopedic surgeons often have financial relationships with medical device manufacturers.  Minnesota has many medical device manufacturing businesses.  The #1 expenditure of Medicare is joint replacement.  The political action committee of the orthopedic doctors spent more in the last election cycle than the AMA to protect their business.  On average, ortho doctors make $400k and are predominantly male (96%).  The only FDA advisory panel that does not allow consumer or patient representatives to vote is for medical devices.  The Supreme Court gave medical device manufacturers preemption from state court in 2008.  We all pay for the high rate of failures because we do not have an unbiased national registry.  Please shed more light on this issue and protect others from the medical and legal purgatory that awaits unsuspecting consumers.

Tommy McConnell

Nov. 23, 2010, 9:37 p.m.

I hope to see findings of failure in medical manufacturers product in the future.I have just had my 3rd surgery in 10 months for penile prostheses,the last being 11-5-10.It is not known yet if this last surgery will be successful or not.The prostheses was supplied by AMERICAN MEDICAL SYSTEMS.
This is a very painful surgery and to go thru it for the 3rd time is a little to much for anyone,and should be reported to the FDA.
To much of a culture of silence exists among doctors and manufacturers and must change.
They need to be able to come together to confess their mistakes,clear their consciences and most important work together to make each system work and when it fails be reported to the FDA.

I wrote comments last week in reference to the article on the play for pay piece on doc’s. The response was amazing and it went on for some 65 comments back and forth. What was sad is that the doctors that have their hand in the cookie jar saw nothing wrong and regardless of how many times I pointed out “Conflict of Interest” issues they just kept coming back with the same mularky. After reading this defense dribble, it appears that these people should run for the US Congress where conflicts of interest are looked at in the same cavalier manner and ignored day in and day out. Too bad they’re not law educated as they’d be perfect replacements for the current republican nominees curretly on the US Supreme Court. i.e Stealing is ok as long as I am the one stealing and Greed is Great!

Michael Magak

Nov. 24, 2010, 8:14 a.m.

This “Dollars for Docs” stuff is crazy. Profiteering at the expense of the sick is immoral, corrupt, unethical and must be considered professional malpractice. This is definitely contrary to the Hippocratic Oath. If drug and medical device companies can do this, what will stop them from manufacturing diseases to increase their immoral and abnormal profits. THE SICK AND THE VULNERABLE MUST BE PROTECTED   FROM CROOKED GREEDY AND CORRUPT PRACTITIONERS BY ANY MEANS!!!

This is great information.  Most individuals unfortunately will never see or care about this, as they believe that whatever their physician says is above reproach.
The DME companies are finally required to come out from the shadows, thanks to the ACA legislation.

My work in the medical profession is to oversee that these companies adhere to good manufacturing practices and they really complain when I refused to allow their products into my institution unless they complied with our internal standards.  They usually resort to the “trust me” argument.  Conversation with the CEO, etc are hilarious as they squirm to try and avoid answering questions about safety.

There are good DME companies and there are not so scrupulous companies, just as their are physicians that fall into both categories.  It pays to ask questions and demand answers.  Unfortunately, much of the public is unwilling or unable to ask the correct question and know if they are receiving an honest/accurate response. 

The FDA has a database of recalled products, that includes DME recalls/failures.  Unfortunately is not the easiest database to search.

Only when the public demands more transparency and learns to use the information such as this by ProPublica, will we as a group start to comprehend how some of these shadowy companies impact our individual lives.

One good thing the liberals in Mass. are doing…we need more transparency.  The medical schools, doctors are funded by Big Pharma and it’s ingrained in these doctor’s heads from the get go.  Let’s see where the money is coming from!  It’s long overdue. I hope Obamacare is repealed—disaster—our coverage has already gone up a lot and the coverage is worse.  It’s a joke.  Nothing is FREE!  Allow insurance across state lines, no pre-existing condition exclusions, preventative healthcare incentives, etc.  It’s common sense. Let the free market take care of it—not the gov’t!  When has the government EVER done anything efficiently?  Never, that’s when!

All the more compelling reason for “Single Payer Health Care”...join the civilized world!

hm.  the page you link to gets you to the familiar commonwealth site, but the page you are looking for has been moved or eliminated or report technical difficulties….

the error might be on this end.  or not.  my search came up empty.  please check.

thanks for keeping on top of this story!

To April: your comment about free market capitalism and National healthcare delivery reminds me of the Tea Party comment ” keep the government out of our Medicare”.  A free market healthcare system works great for everyone BUT consumers.  That’s why healthcare reform is so essential to rebalancing the equation.

After two incidents of atrial fibrillation in 30 years, my cardiologist proposed inserting a “Watchman” in my left atrial appendage.  This happened in Arizona, which I’d be willing to bet will be the last state in the union to make available information about money paid to doctors to promote medical devices.  This same cardiologist, according to another project by Pro Publica to publish how much 7 pharmaceutical companies paid doctors to promote their products state by state, received money from two of the seven.

This registry is long overdue.  I have worked in the ER for 25years and witnessed first hand doctors bragging about how much money they made speaking for drug reps and other doc’s demanding to know how they can sign up as they ‘want some extra free money’.  No care about what they were flogging. One doc emphatically stated he didn’t care what he pushed as ‘long as they pay me well’. I have also witnessed drug reps giving ER docs bags of drugs to take home.  The antibiotic prescription of the week for everything was what that rep brought in.  Next week, different rep, different antibiotic.

try this URL:
but it’s not very user friendly; somehow I suspect that’s on purpose.  After trying that URL, you need to click on “Information for Consumers”, then scroll to the bottom, and click on the link to “custom reports”, then read the instructions and click on which type of report you want to try.  I still haven’t gotten it to work properly!

What’s all that talk about government transparency again?

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Dollars for Doctors

Dollars for Doctors: How Industry Money Reaches Physicians

ProPublica is tracking the financial ties between doctors and medical companies.

The Story So Far

ProPublica is investigating the financial ties between the medical community and the drug and device industry. In October 2010, ProPublica compiled the list of payments that drug companies make to physicians and built a publicly searchable database so that patients could look up their doctors.

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