Despite lots of trepidation about the effect of the Massachusetts Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Manufacturer Code of Conduct, which went into effect in July, on medical meetings in Boston, the city’s convention and visitors bureau President and CEO Pat Moscaritolo recently told Medical Meetings that the actual fallout has been about nil. No meetings were pulled out of Boston because of the new law, and, albeit after much discussion, organizations that were considering booking Boston for the future are still including the city in their site selection proposals.

The code regulates interactions between drug and device companies and healthcare practitioners, placing restrictions on meeting venues, gifts, meals, and entertainment. It also requires companies to disclose any gifts or payments to healthcare practitioners worth $50 or more; this data will be made available to the public on a state Web site.

It Took a Village (or at least a CVB)

That’s not to say that there weren’t lots of questions, and lots of scrambling, to save Massachusetts' meeting industry suppliers from the perception that it would just be too hard to plan medical meetings in the Bay State, says Moscaritolo. “There was a lot that happened in the time between when the rules were promulgated in March to where we are today.” For example, he and others from the CVB participated in panel discussions for the Professional Convention Management Association, ASAE and The Center for Association Leadership, and the Health Care Exhibitors Association. Tourism and hospitality officials also did a lot of listening to their medical meetings clients, and took their questions back to the Public Health Department for clarification, amplification, and revisions in the language.

“One thing I learned through all this is that we are all—and I include myself in this—lawyers at heart,” he says. “No matter how well written the rules and regulations are, there are always different ways to interpret them. We wanted everything to be as clear as possible.” To that end, the CVB also posted FAQs and links to questions the Department of Public Health was getting, and offered a downloadable guide that, “while somewhat ponderous to go through, people seemed to appreciate.”

The CVB reached out directly to its clients, including the Heart Rhythm Society, whose meeting was held in Boston in May, just a month and a half after the law was promulgated. It is scheduled to return in 2012 and 2015. CVB officials addressed the Heart Rhythm Society’s exhibitor advisory board to find out what its exhibitors and sponsors felt about the new law and the restrictions already in place due to compliance with the PhRMA code. Moscaritolo says, “It became very clear to me how far ahead of the state rules and regs these companies already are.”

No Ducking the Issues

Just how far ahead of the state’s law are they? Take the case of a third-party planner who was in charge of logistics for a major medical association meeting at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center this summer. She wanted to transport attendees to a reception at the Museum of Science in Cambridge. Instead of taking a bus, limo, or other type of transport, the planner wanted to use some of the World War II amphibious landing vehicles ubiquitous to the streets and waterways of Boston, the Duck Tour vehicles. But she got a big no from the compliance officer of the pharma company sponsoring the transportation.

“Oh, no, is it because of the new Massachusetts law?” Moscaritolo asked the planner. She replied that it had nothing to do with the law; it was because of the voluntary PhRMA Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals that the company had been complying with for some time. She was told to use a limo, bus, van, or sedan, but not the Duck, because the Duck is perceived as “fun”—even though it was about a third of the cost of a bus or limo.

No Sigh of Relief Yet

Moscaritolo sounds proud as he says, “We as a bureau were very aggressive in dealing with this challenge, very proactive in responding to the challenge of what these rules and regs meant, and in engaging our customers. Long-term we’ll find out whether these rules in our state and others will drive down healthcare costs—it’ll be years before we know that. But in the short term, it brought us closer to our customers in medical meetings and pharma and biotech.”

But he’s not putting the issue to rest just yet, either. In Massachusetts, legislation is reviewed every two years, and he worries that those who were in favor of even more restrictive rules around pharma marketing might look at the lack of negative impact on medical meetings due to the new law as license to add more restrictions when it comes around again. And he also worries about what he calls “arms escalation”: that other states, or even the federal government, will look at the fact that Massachusetts didn’t lose its medical meetings business as impetus to institute more severe restrictions of their own.

Related articles:
Bay State Bans Pharma Gifts to Physicians

Greater Boston CVB Releases FAQ about New Massachusetts Pharma Marketing Code

How New State Pharma Marketing Laws Could Affect Continuing Medical Education