Keller @ Large: Time To Reverse Pharmaceutical Gift Ban?

By Jon Keller, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) – Supporters say a gift ban was needed to change a too-cozy relationship between drug companies and doctors. But critics say it’s costing the Massachusetts economy millions.

Now the battle over the state’s ban on gifts from drug-makers to medical industry personnel is coming to a head on Beacon Hill.

Governor Patrick and House Speaker Robert DeLeo agree the ban is costing the state jobs and revenue, something restaurants and other hospitality businesses have been complaining about since it took effect in 2009.

But on Beacon Hill, it takes three to tango, and so far, one branch of government isn’t interested in dancing.

“I think it was an overreaction and I think it’s time to correct the situation,” says Speaker DeLeo who has plenty of company in wanting the ban to end.

“It is costing our state tens of millions of dollars in sales taxes, income taxes, meals taxes, and convention revenue,” says Dave Andelman of the Restaurant and Business Alliance.

But restaurants aren’t alone in feeling the pinch.

Candy maker The Chocolate Truffle isn’t selling many chocolate shoes, a popular corporate gift, since the ban took effect.

“We have closed a store in Lynnfield, we have drastically cut the number of employees we have,” says Erin Calvo-Bacci. “If that gift ban was gone then we could increase our production.”

Do these businesses have a point?

State Senator Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford) says, “Only in Massachusetts do we dictate health care policy through restaurants.”

Montigny helped write the ban, and the Senate has been the burial ground for past repeal efforts.

He says, “Doctors should be left alone in a very sacred relationship with their patients, and there is no room in the middle of that for the kind of cheesy marketing and gift-giving and restaurants and wine toasts.”

Speaker DeLeo says, “If we’re gonna have issues with doctors who are going to have a problem trying to keep their honesty as the result of receiving a chicken dinner, then we’ve got other problems.”

Senate President Therese Murray is a staunch advocate of the gift ban, and her office didn’t return our phone call for comment.

The Senate has yet to even take a vote on the repeal, and with only six weeks left in the session, there’s no guarantee they will.

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