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Giant pharmaceutical company promises to stop paying doctors to promote its products. And then breaks promise.

pharmaceuticalShortly after it paid $3 billion in fines for illegal marketing and kickbacks five years ago, GlaxoSmithKline promised it would no longer pay doctors to promote its pharmaceutical products.

Glaxo’s pledge followed reports that the company had showered doctors and government officials in China with bribes. But some were still shocked by Glaxo’s announcement.

Many hoped other giant pharmaceutical companies might also stop those payments. In addition to straight-up payments to doctors, it’s common practice for pharmaceutical companies to offer physicians meals, event tickets or even paid travel.

While doctors have long argued that Big Pharma’s generosity does not affect what they prescribe,  studies published by the Journal of the American Medical Association suggest there is an association between perks received by doctors and the rates at which they prescribe medications being promoted.

So, has anything changed in the five years since Glaxo’s announcement?

No. In fact, Glaxo says it will start paying doctors again.

Why reverse its no-payments policy?

“We believe this has led to a reduced understanding of our products and is, ultimately, restricting patient access to truly innovative medicines and vaccines,” the company said in a statement.

Company officials declined to discuss the new policy with Ed Silverman, a reporter who covers the industry for STAT news. However, a spokesman did tell Silverman the new payment policy pertains to about a dozen products launched in the past two years.

Do you think there’s a connection between the perks doctors receive from pharmaceutical companies and the medications they prescribe? Share your thoughts with Voices for Affordable Health.