Stunning Health Care Conflict of Interest

By: - October 3, 2008 1:43 pm

Today the NYT is reporting further on what has been a continuing series of embarrassing revelations regarding the cozy relationships between the drug industry and many doctors. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has been investigating this issue and documents now reveal:

One of the nation's most influential psychiatrists earned more than $2.8 million in consulting arrangements with drug makers between 2000 and 2007, failed to report at least $1.2 million of this income to his university, and violated federal research rules, according to documents provided to Congressional investigators.

The psychiatrist, Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff of Emory University, is the most prominent example to date in a series of disclosures that is shaking the world of academic medicine and seems likely to force broad changes in the relationships between doctors and drug makers.

In one telling example, Dr. Nemeroff signed a letter dated July 15, 2004, promising Emory administrators that he would earn less than $10,000 a year from GlaxoSmithKline to comply with federal rules.

But on that day, he was at the Four Seasons Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyo., earning $3,000 of what would become $170,000 in income that year from the British drug giant — 17 times the figure he had agreed on.

Look no further for one of the major reasons why our health system costs twice as much per person than in any other wealthy country. Does anyone really believe that doctors doing research on the effectiveness of new treatments can really be objective when they are earning millions from companies that are selling the same new drugs and treatments? And think of the human cost. What is the result of pushing new and powerful drugs – many with dangerous side effects – on adults and children without thoroughly and objectively testing whether they work or not? Will we ever learn, or will the greed of organizations and individuals coupled with lax regulation and oversight continue to drive our health system away from the high standards we used to enjoy?

Probably not. Despite studies showing the likely ineffectiveness and possible danger of the related drugs Zetia and Vytorin that came out last year, prescriptions are still being written for the drugs to the tune of billions of dollars. Welcome to the reason your health premiums continue to rise while deductibles and copays jump too.

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