Would a new agency curb pharma marketing misdeeds?

Would a new agency curb pharma marketing misdeeds?

So this week, it's Caremark who's on the dock, agreeing to pay $38.5 million to settle charges that it wheedled doctors into switching prescriptions to ones which benefited the pharmacy benefit management company. Color me exasperated.

Every week, I have the privilege of watching the healthcare industry work, including the basic ins and outs of the pharmaceutical industry and its friends. And just about every week, some pharmaceutical company or affiliated player wiggles out of marketing wrongdoing of one kind or another. OK, maybe you don't call $38.5 million a "wiggle," much less then hundreds of millions the pharmas themselves have paid out, but if they keep sliding into new wrongdoing, they must not have thought the costs too excessive given the money they made.

So is it really important that they're being caught with hands in the cookie jar? Well, what harm is being done? Usually, it's insurance companies or employers getting shafted, but sometimes low-income consumers' pockets are picked. In the mean time, who knows if patients are being harmed by drug policies that don't get the drug their doctor chose? At present we can't precisely measure this, but it's certainly a question worth addressing.

Of course, we do have the FDA, which is supposed to spank the pharmas properly when they misbehave. However, it doesn't seem that the FDA has the money, staff (or some argue, the will) to bring down the hammer on pharma marketing misdeeds. That, some would argue, is why civil suits are getting the job done.

Maybe we need a new agency, independent of the FDA, which doesn't get into the politics of big-money drug approvals and safety. This agency's job would be to focus exclusively on marketing and distribution--which are, after all, completely different worlds than the clinical processes the FDA supervises--and keep an eagle eye on the dynamics of the market. That agency would be much better equipped to catch pharma marketing misdeeds early in the process. Throw in a few ex-pharma marketing execs at the top, and you'd really be getting there.

What do you think, folks? Is this agency a good idea? If so, how would it work, who would be involved, and how would it be paid for (fees for violations)? - Anne

P.S. FierceHealthcare won't be published on Monday in honor of President's day. We will return on Tuesday, February 19th. Have a great weekend!