Published: Tuesday, June 12, 2007
By Nancy Remsen
Free Press Staff Writer
MONTPELIER -- Gov. Jim Douglas has ended speculation that he might veto one more of the 100 bills sent him this year by the Legislature. Monday he put his signature on a controversial prescription drug bill.
Local consumer and physician advocates cheered the governor's decision, while a national organization representing drug manufacturers repeated its opposition.
"This law is the right prescription for patients and their doctors in Vermont," said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
Julie Corcoran, vice president of state policy for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, countered, "It is unfortunate it was signed into law."
The law is expected to increase the use of less expensive generic drugs by giving patients and doctors more information about their effectiveness. Doctors will have vouchers for generics intended to balance the influence of free samples that drug manufacturers provide. Drug salespeople also must provide doctors with "fact-based" information about their medicines and comparable drugs.
PHRMA objects to one provision that consumer and physician groups praise -- a restriction affecting the availability of the prescribing records of Vermont doctors. Doctors will have to agree to let their prescribing information be available to drug manufacturers for use in sales calls.
Corcoran said her organization would prefer to give doctors the opportunity to opt out of sharing their records. Under Vermont's "opt-in" provision, she said the state made the decision for physicians.
The Vermont Medical Society, which wanted the restriction, said the opt-in requirement will "limit one of the biggest health care cost drivers -- aggressive pharmaceutical marketing."
Vermont lawmakers rewrote this section of the bill near the end of the session after a federal judge ruled a similar New Hampshire law was unconstitutional. New Hampshire had banned the use of the data for marketing.
Douglas worried that Vermont's bill would invite a lawsuit here, but he said Monday he concluded, "There is more good than bad in the bill."
"There may well be litigation," Douglas said, "but the attorney general says it is defensible."