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Are Doctors Relying on Pharmaceutical Companies to Pay Their Salaries?

More and more evidence seems to indicate that pharmaceutical companies are funneling money into the pockets of doctors who regularly prescribe their medications. This makes many people wonder whether they really need the medications they take, or if they are helping their physicians pay for their cruises, homes, and fancy cars.

The Startling Figures

According to an analysis performed by Modern Healthcare using an Open Payments database regarding Medicare Part D information, some 400 doctors prescribed more than $1 million worth of drugs in Medicare’s Part D prescription program. Of those 400 doctors, 23% received some sort of financial kickback from the drug manufacturer, whether in the form of consulting fees or other perks. As an example, a neurologist in Saginaw, Michigan named Dr. Gavin Awerbuch billed Medicare for more than $6.4 million worth of Subsys, a drug designed to help cancer patients fight pain, in 2013. The Justice Department indicted him last year for the fraudulent prescription of unnecessary medications.

Other Guilty Parties

Dr. Awerbuch is not the only party guilty of receiving money for prescribing medications. Dr. Vallerie McLaughlin, a University of Michigan cardiologist, prescribed nearly $5 million worth of Tracleer to Medicare recipients in 2013. This made her the sixth-highest prescriber of a single drug. What’s more, the manufacturers of that drug, Actelion Pharmaceuticals, a Swiss company, paid her $40,491 that year in clinical consulting fees, meals, and travel. Is that merely a coincidence, or are physicians truly prescribing unnecessary medications just to line their pockets?

Is It Legal?

There is no law that prevents pharmaceutical companies from rewarding doctors who regularly prescribe their medications. However, the drug makers cannot simply write the physicians checks for a job well done. Instead, they pay “consultation fees” to the doctors, which is nothing more than a clever way for the physician to earn a handsome kickback simply for prescribing a popular medication. Often, these fees include things such as luxurious meals, travel accommodations, and more – and sometimes even for the physician’s family, too.

What Does This Mean for Medicare Recipients?

Does this mean that Medicare recipients should be wary of every single drug they are prescribed? In some cases, yes. Although there is no proof that doctors across the country continue to prescribe medications to people who do not need them just to get financial kickbacks, it is happening – and it has been proven in some cases. Medicare recipients who receive prescriptions should carefully question their physicians to determine whether the drug is truly necessary. What’s more, obtaining a second opinion is also an option. Patients should do their own research and assist in determining whether medications are helpful or not necessary at all.

It is certainly sad that physicians who swore oaths to “do no harm” would prescribe their patients to take potent medications, often with severe side effects and the potential for addiction, even when those drugs are not necessary, just to earn some extra cash. It means that consumers must be on their toes, questioning their healthcare teams in times of sickness and health alike.