The legislature of Massachusetts, which in 2008 adopted one of the strictest state laws governing pharmaceutical company interactions with the state’s physicians, has passed revisions that would again allow pharma companies to pay for “modest” meals taking place during non-CME sessions that occur outside of hospitals, medical offices, and training sites. The definition of the word “modest” is being left up to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The revisions to the Massachusetts Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Manufacturer Code of Conduct, which were included in the 2013 $32.5 billion state budget, were signed into law by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick July 8.

Also among the revisions: Companies can pay expenses for medical device training; they no longer will have to duplicate reporting efforts required by the state and the federal Sunshine Act; and manufacturers now will have to provide quarterly reports for non-CME events for which they provide refreshments. Gifts to physicians are still restricted.

Thomas Sullivan, president of the Rockpointe Corp. medical education company and author of the Policy & Medicine blog, says, “The legislature and governor in Massachusetts realized they went too far in banning meals for healthcare providers and made this change. This law shows that as long as the events are held in reasonable settings, the public sees the value of health care providers keeping up to date on the latest medical technology.” The Massachusetts Restaurant Association, which had been lobbying for this change since the inception of the ban, called the move “a great win for the restaurant industry in Massachusetts.” The MRA contends that the ban had cost the state’s restaurant owners hundreds of thousands of dollars, and affected many of the state’s restaurant workers’ jobs.

Others did not greet the news with the same sense of welcome as Sullivan, who is an outspoken proponent of industry/physician collaboration, and the MRA. Students from the American Medical Student Association’s PharmFree campaign, along with like-minded residents and physicians, had petitioned the governor to leave the ban in place. According to The Boston Globe, the governor responded in a letter to the students that the slackening of the rule will better align the state’s laws with the Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America’s Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals, which have been voluntarily adopted by 58 companies to date.

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