Does your doctor take drug company money?

Does your doctor take drug company money? »Play Video
BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - In 2010 alone, the top 10 pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. raked in more than $63 billion in profits. But they also spend a lot to make a lot. And doctors are some of their biggest recipients, even here in Idaho.

We know Idaho doctors were paid at least $2.5 million by drug companies over the past three years. We don't know exactly how much, because right now disclosure is still optional. Next year, that will change.

Almost half of all Americans take a least one prescription medication. And many of us trust that our doctors are giving us the best drug, based on our specific needs. But what if you knew that your doctor was receiving tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, from a specific pharmaceutical company? Would you still be just as confident?

"I'd ask more questions to find out why she is prescribing this for me," says Boise resident Janalee Schrader.

"It would definitely raise some questions for me," adds Boise resident Thomas Fassino. "It's no different than anyone else trying to push a product they have a financial interest in."

State Representative John Rusche knows plenty about drug companies. He spent almost two decades as a pediatrician. He thinks the ties between pharmaceutical companies and doctors can be tricky to unwind.

"The marketing has always been to entice or reward physicians for using or prescribing their product," says Rusche.

Rusche says it was even worse in past years when many companies threw money, gifts and vacations at doctors with little or no oversight.

For this story we investigated payment disclosures over the past three years between pharmaceutical companies and hundreds of doctors in the Treasure Valley.

Payments were listed for services like speaking, consulting and research. But the national list, originally compiled by ProPublica last year, isn't comprehensive. It only covers about 40-percent of total payments, because right now, disclosure by drug companies is optional.

Still, what we found locally even made a retired doctor do a double take. One Treasure Valley doctor had received more than $200,000 from drug companies over the past three years. We asked Rusche if that would raise any red flags.

"Well I think it would," said Rusche. "First of all, I think it would be unreasonable, $200,000."

But that's what we uncovered. In our investigation, the top three local doctors receiving money from drug companies over the past three years all had earnings listed of more than $100,000, and the top recipient made more than $200,000.


 

We want to make it clear, the relationship between doctors and pharmaceutical companies is not illegal, but Rusche says it raises some important questions, especially because drug companies know the exact brand each doctor is prescribing.

"That's collected by the insurance companies and the pharmacy data centers," says Rusche, "And it's available for purchase."

We had questions for the highest paid doctors on this list, so we contacted them.

Overall, only two doctors called us back, from almost a dozen messages. The top recipient never got back to me, Psychiatrist Leslie Lundt. We even contacted her at her new clinic in Southern California, after discovering one of her websites that touts her as "an ideal expert for all media - television, radio, newspaper or magazines."

Still, Lundt never returned two of our phone messages or one email.

The only doctor from the top of the list that returned our messages was Meridian psychiatrist Scott Hoopes. Dr. Hoopes received a total of $133,000 from Pfizer in 2009 and 2010, and disclosed it himself on his website.

Hoopes says he's actually heard stories of doctors who flout out told drug companies they wouldn't prescribe their product without being compensated. Hoopes adds, although the number of unethical doctors is small, every physician is now paying the price.

In 2011, Hoopes took himself off the lecture circuit because of the current cloud of suspicion, after a recent incident involving the husband of one of his patients.

"She's doing well, and he commented to the girls up front that I was prescribing the medication I prescribed for her because I spoke for that company. That was devastating to me," says Hoopes.

Many top physicians are sought out by pharmaceutical companies for lectures and consulting. Rusche says can be a valuable resource to educate other doctors, as long as that's the primary motivation.

"You have to get the information out to the docs, says Rusche. "You want them to be current on medication and devices. But you don't want them to be unduly influenced by a financial relationship."

Although disclosure between drug companies and doctors is now optional, a federal law makes it mandatory starting next year.

Does your doctor take drug company money? Find out HERE (Document is PDF file and lists doctors who have received more than $250 in payments.)

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How do you feel about this story? Is your doctor on the list? Are you OK with the practice by some doctors? Join the conversation on the KBOI2 Facebook page and tell us what you think!