Critics see conflict of interest as Obama admin advises doctors on prescriptions

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
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The Obama administration’s “academic detailing” program — through which representatives from the federal government help doctors select prescription drugs for their patients — is coming under harsh behind-the-scenes criticism from corporate executives including the CEO of Pfizer, who is trying to have the project disbanded.

The academic detailing project, created by President Obama’s 2009 stimulus program, sends federal government consultants to doctors’ offices and pharmacies to provide “evidence-based research findings” that can be used to help doctors and pharmacists choose prescription drugs for their clients.

Academic detailing consultants visit doctors at approximately 1,300 primary care clinician sites and 200 hospitals and health systems in targeted areas around the country.

“Trained clinician consultants visit physicians, pharmacists, nurses, other clinicians, and health care system decisionmakers nationwide to share unbiased, noncommercial information about medications and other therapeutic options with the goal of improving patient care,” according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the Department of Health and Human Services agency responsible for overseeing the program.

Critics view the academic detailing project as a conflict-of-interest because it allows the federal government — which has an incentive under Obamacare to keep health care costs low — to guide doctors toward choosing cheaper generic drugs for their patients.

Pfizer CEO Ian Read strongly agreed with remarks calling the program a conflict of interest during the question-and-answer session at the annual Pfizer shareholder meeting in Short Hills, New Jersey Thursday.

Pfizer, which supported Obamacare in 2010, is now working behind-the-scenes to pressure Washington lawmakers to repeal the “academic detailing” program.

“We think it is a waste of public money, and certainly we disagree with the fact that the government-funded academic detailers are not bound by the same rules of detailing and the same rules of truthfulness that we are,” Read said.

“We continue to educate Congress on this issue, and work with allies to try and get a reform on this issue,” Read said.

“AHRQ has been very transparent in regard to our work in academic detailing,” an AHRQ spokesperson told The Daily Caller.

But the agency did not release a full list of the doctors’ offices and pharmacies that its consultants have visited.

In 2010, the AHRQ awarded two contracts worth $26.5 million to the Washington, D.C. office of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide to “promote the adoption of findings and reports related to Patient-Centered Outcomes Research, also known as comparative effectiveness research,” according to an Ogilvy press release.

“Comparative effectiveness research” is the AHRQ model that governs academic detailing research. Obama’s 2009 stimulus act allocated $1.1 billion for comparative effectiveness research.

Academic detailing is very similar to the process by which representatives from pharmaceutical companies visit doctor’s offices to pitch their new drug products. But academic detailing consultants operate with little to no regulatory oversight, according to critics of the project.

“When those drug company reps go in to speak to doctors, there has to be complete disclosure. There are strict regulations on that. And of course there should be. Drug companies are selling their products,” Jeff Stier, senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, told TheDC.

“But when the government goes in and does detailing, we don’t know what they’re saying. The spoken words in those meetings with doctors are not publicly available,” Stier said.

“The government has an incentive to encourage physicians to prescribe cheaper generic drugs to save money. So when these academic detailers go into doctors’ offices, they have the same inherent conflict of interest,” Stier said.

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