AARP Outs Lawmakers Who Broke Pledge On Gift Ban

Message to lawmakers: Don’t cross the AARP and expect to get away with it.

The influential advocacy group for the over-50 crowd today delivered letters to 14 state representatives to remind them of the “campaign promises they made to maintain and fund the prescription drug gift ban and disclosure law.”

Happy to name names, the AARP put out a list of the reps who voted to repeal the 2008 law which bans drug companies from offering gifts, wine, lavish dinners and other freebies to physicians. The repeal passed in the House overwhelmingly Tuesday with bipartisan support as part of a budget plan. Here’s the full list of AARP promise-breakers — each of whom had signed a pledge last year to uphold the gift ban and disclosure law:

Paul Adams (R-Andover, 17th Essex District)
Richard Bastien (R-Gardner, 2nd Worcester)
Paul Brodeur (D-Melrose, 32nd Middlesex)
Edward Coppinger (D-Boston, 10th Suffolk)
Gloria Fox (D-Roxbury, 7th Suffolk)
Anne Gobi (D-Spencer, 5th Worcester)
Steven Levy (R-Marlborough, 4th Middlesex)
John Mahoney (D-Worcester, 13th Worcester)
Paul Mark (D-Hancock, 2nd Berkshire)
Tom Sannicandro (D-Ashland, 7th Middlesex District)
Paul Schmid (D-Westport, 8th Bristol District)
Ellen Story (D-Amherst, 3rd Hampshire District)
Benjamin Swan (D-Springfield, 11th Hampden District)
Cleon Turner (D-Dennis, 1st Barnstable District)

The AARP, which represents more than 800,000 members in the state, says in its 2010 Voters’ Guide that each representative responded to a specific question on prescription drug affordability and also indicated support for the gift ban law.

Today’s letter, from State Director Deborah Banda and State President Linda Fitzgerald reads, in part:

AARP members were counting on you to keep your campaign promise. In the AARP Voters’ Guide, published in October 2010, you responded to a specific question on prescription drug affordability and indicated you supported maintaining and funding the prescription drug gift ban and disclosure law. But, Tuesday you voted in support of Amendment No. 230 to repeal the law. AARP members want to know why you changed your position.

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  • Michael S. Altus, PhD, ELS

    Three points:

    First, what are the policies that gift-giving pharmaceutical companies have about their own employees’ receiving gifts?

    Effective July 1, 2010, Vermont law banned giving gifts, with some exceptions, to healthcare providers. Before then, Vermont law required pharmaceutical manufacturers to disclose gifts to physicians and other health care professionals. The most recent data, for fiscal year 2009 (July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009), show that the manufacturers spent about $2.6 million. Physicians and nurses received about $2.1 million of these gifts. Gifts worth less than $25 were exempt from disclosure. The top five spenders for marketing in Vermont during FY 2009 were Pfizer, Lilly, Forest, Merck, and GSK. These data, which do not reveal the actual amount spent by each company, are at
    Here is the policy of one of these top five spenders about its employees receiving gifts:

    The Blue Book: Summary of Pfizer Policies on Business Conduct (, p. 27
    Giving and Accepting Gifts, Entertainment, Loans, or Other Favors
    The Company prohibits you…from giving and receiving gifts, services, perks, entertainment, or other items of more than token or nominal monetary value to or from the Company’s suppliers, customers, or other third parties. Moreover, gifts of nominal value are permitted only if they are not given or received on a regular or frequent basis.

    The policies of the other four top spenders are similar.

    The unblinking hypocrisy is galling.

    Second, who really pays for free lunches that opponents of gift bans want pharmaceutical companies to be allowed to continue? Grandma does, and the rest of us, and Medicare and Medicaid in the form of higher drug prices. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

    Third, what jobs could be lost? I doubt that the pharmaceutical industry would leave a state because they may no longer give free meal tickets to doctors, and that doctors would leave a state because they no longer get food stamps from drug companies. The jobs that would be lost would include those in the restaurant and catering industries that provide free lunches to health care professionals.

    Maintaining gift bans is the right thing to do. Just ask Grandma.