California state senators approved legislation on May 18 that would restrict pharmaceutical producers and other drug companies from giving gifts to doctors and other medical professionals. The legislation, SB 790, was penned by Democratic State Sen. Mike McGuire and passed by a vote of 23-13.
According to KRCR, SB 790 would prohibit or restrict most gifts from drug makers to doctors. McGuire said the bill would lower the cost of drugs in California because it would prevent doctors from receiving gifts that encourage the prescription of expensive drugs.
McGuire told Associated Press reporters that drug companies spend more than $1.4 billion every year on California doctors alone.
"While we have witnessed the cost of drugs rise over the past decade, industry profits have also grown significantly," said McGuire. "We shall be all standing for seniors and taxpayers to drive down the cost of prescription drugs."
Democratic State Sen. Ed Hernandez, an optometrist in the Los Angeles area, said that the bill was a simple measure to cut drug costs. "As a provider myself, I have no problem not accepting any gifts from any pharmaceutical company that comes trying to peddle their drugs in my office."
Many California Republicans spoke out against the bill, however, arguing that pharmaceutical makers need to be able to market their products, and the bill would restrict their ability to reach new patients.
"Successful products provide the funding for the research, for cures," argued Republican State Sen. Ted Gaines. "Why would we do anything to diminish the ability of pharma companies to be successful in providing these new products?"
California Senate Minority Leader Republican Patricia Bates said that gifts from pharmaceutical companies to doctors are already well regulated and restricted, and that any further regulations could prevent or hinder doctors from participating in clinical trials and limit Californian's access to possibly untested treatments.
SB 790 would still allow doctors to be paid salaries for running clinical trials, and companies can still pay for meals, as long as the costs are below $250 per year per doctors. Even with these exceptions, the bill is still fiercely opposed by the pharmaceutical industry's main lobbying group.
SB 790, which now heads to the state assembly, could prove a big blow to the pharmaceutical lobby that has traditionally held a powerful position in Washington D.C. Though the bill is California-specific, it aims to limit the influence of an industry that has poured almost $1 billion into politics between 1998 and 2005 and has almost 1,300 registered lobbyists currently in the Capital.