- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A public-watchdog group is taking aim at the discounts that various drug companies offer physician health-care groups, saying they hurt both the market and the consumers of these medical products.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter Tuesday to the Federal Trade Commission, requesting that the commission conduct an antitrust investigation into drug companies offering discounts to doctors for providing patients with only that company’s vaccines.

“Patients presume the doctors choose vaccines based on the patient’s best interests,” said Melanie Sloan, the executive director for CREW. “In some cases, doctors are choosing vaccines based on the discounts offered by the drug manufacturer.”

To persuade physician health-care groups to purchase only their own vaccines, drug companies such as Merck and Sanofi Pasteur offer significant price discounts, if these groups agree to provide only their vaccines. If one member of the group breaks the deal, the entire practice loses the discounts.

Due to this arrangement, physicians are restricted from offering their patients vaccines from different companies that may be more effective or better suit the patient’s medical needs.

CREW accuses these contracts of reining in competition, preventing potentially more effective vaccines from entering the market, and suffocating innovation in an industry that is granted generous federal funding. They also rob consumers of the best healthcare.

“No one should have to question their physicians’ motives, but the practices of companies like Sanofi Pasteur and Merck suggest we should all be questioning our doctors closely about why they chose a particular vaccine,” Mrs. Sloan said.