In Massachusetts, Lawmakers Pass Drug Marketing Rules That Impact Meetings

In a unanimous vote, lawmakers in Massachusetts have approved a set of new drug and device marketing regulations that will impact organizations hosting, exhibiting at or attending healthcare meetings in the Bay State.

Part of what's called The Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Manufacturer Code of Conduct, the regulations govern the interactions between drug and device manufacturers and the healthcare practitioners that prescribe them. The most restrictive regulations of their kind in the nation, they limit the venues in which pharmaceutical companies can host or attend meetings, as well as the gifts, meals and entertainment that they can sponsor.

"This is the law of unintended consequences," Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau (GBCVB) President and CEO Patrick B. Moscaritolo said last week at a meeting of the New England chapter of the Professional Convention Management Association. "They didn't set out to destroy our meetings business. They are dealing with the larger issue of healthcare cost containment, which is now a national issue."

In fact, the new pharma code of conduct—which takes effect July 1, 2009—was originally part of a healthcare cost-containment bill that was signed into law last summer by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. The original version of that bill was so ambiguous that it would have likely deterred medical meetings from locating in Boston or elsewhere in the state.

Due in part to lobbying efforts by the GBCVB, the version that was approved this month by the Massachusetts Public Health Council is more specific. It contains language, for instance, that allows healthcare meetings to take place in hotels, convention centers and other special-event venues, provided that they are "appropriate and conducive" to education.

Other restrictions on meeting exhibitors, sponsors and attendees, according to the new code:

• Companies must disclose any gifts or payments to healthcare practitioners worth $50 or more.
• Companies are prohibited from paying directly for practitioners' meals at healthcare events
• Companies are forbidden from providing entertainment or recreational items of any value to healthcare practitioners
• Companies may not give away to healthcare practitioners pens, coffee mugs, T-shirts or any other promotional items, including educational items like anatomical models, which are allowed by similar codes in other states
• Provided they adhere to accreditation bodies' standards, companies may offer commercial support of continuing medical education

According to the GBCVB, it has retained the services of a healthcare attorney in order to address the meeting industry's concerns over the new pharma regulations. Together, the lawyer and the CVB plan to develop a frequently-asked-questions document and a downloadable medical meetings handbook that explain the new rules.