Importance: Pharmaceutical industry payments to physicians may affect prescribing practices and increase costs if more expensive medications are prescribed.
Objective: Determine the association between industry payments to physicians and the prescribing of brand-name as compared with generic statins for lowering cholesterol.
Design, setting, and participants: Cross-sectional linkage of the Part D Medicare prescriptions claims data with the Massachusetts physicians payment database including all licensed Massachusetts physicians who wrote prescriptions for statins paid for under the Medicare drug benefit in 2011.
Main outcomes and measures: The exposure variable was a physician's industry payments as listed in the Massachusetts database. The outcome was the physician's rate of prescribing brand-name statins. We used linear regression to analyze the association between the intensity of physicians' industry relationships (as measured by total payments) and their prescribing practices, as well as the effects of specific types of payments.
Results: Among the 2444 Massachusetts physicians in the Medicare prescribing database in 2011, 899 (36.8%) received industry payments. The most frequent payment was for company-sponsored meals (n = 639 [71.1%]). Statins accounted for 1 559 003 prescription claims; 356 807 (22.8%) were for brand-name drugs. For physicians with no industry payments listed, the median brand-name statin prescribing rate was 17.8% (95% CI, 17.2%-18.4%). For every $1000 in total payments received, the brand-name statin prescribing rate increased by 0.1% (95% CI, 0.06%-0.13%; P < .001). Payments for educational training were associated with a 4.8% increase in the rate of brand-name prescribing (P = .004); other forms of payments were not.
Conclusions and relevance: Industry payments to physicians are associated with higher rates of prescribing brand-name statins. As the United States seeks to rein in the costs of prescription drugs and make them less expensive for patients, our findings are concerning.