Bring in mandatory code to curb bribing by pharma cos

In response to reports saying the PM had warned pharma companies about bribing doctors, the Association of Doctors for Ethical Healthcare (ADEH) issued a statement demanding that the PM back his concern by bringing in a mandatory Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP). A voluntary code has been in place since January 2015 under which there has been little or no action despite numerous instances of pharma bribing. It is unfortunate that even after five years the code remains voluntary, said the ADEH statement, adding that global experience also showed that voluntary codes do not work. According to the ADEH, pharma companies “spend huge amount on travel, accommodation and other expenditures on the doctors for lavish arrangements of the conferences”. This would be unacceptable under the voluntary UCPMP. As per clause 7.2 of the UCPMP, “companies or their associations/representatives shall not extend any hospitality like hotel accommodation to healthcare practitioners and their family members under any pretext”. This means that even extending benefits to doctors through associations is unethical and yet this is being flouted with impunity, stated ADEH. The association further stated that it was unfortunate that in February 2014 the Medical Council of India amended the ethics code of 2002 to exempt “professional associations of doctors” from its purview. ADEH asked the government to take urgent steps to reverse this amendment. It also asked for corporate hospitals to be brought under the purview of medical ethics as they “take advantage and openly flout” medical ethics as they are currently not covered under it. The ADEH also raised the issue of tax treatment of expenses by pharma on freebies. The Central Bureau of Direct Taxes had decided in 2012 that no tax exemption will be given for such expenses since they were forbidden under MCI’s ethics code. However, in July 2018, an income tax tribunal reversed this. This ruling has not been challenged by the government. ADEH demanded that government make expenses on freebies taxable. Without these steps, the PM’s concern about doctors being bribed would “remain only rhetoric”, the ADEH statement said.

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