Editor’s Corner: Why are we still letting pharma pay physicians?


Close-up of a doctor's white coat

Last month, W. Carl Reichel was acquitted of charges that he oversaw a kickback scheme designed to induce physicians to prescribe certain drugs manufactured by Warner Chilcott LLC.

The president and CEO of the pharmaceutical company was acquitted of those charges despite the fact that the company itself pleaded guilty to “knowingly and willfully” paying off physicians in the form of sham speaking fees and meals at high-end restaurants, and agreed to pay the government $125 million in civil and criminal fines.

He was acquitted even though prosecutors trotted out nearly a dozen witnesses who worked under Reichel to testify against him, some of whom admitted to participating in the scheme that used “medical education” events–including barbecues, picnics, parties and trips to a casino–to improve physician prescribing rates. The government also alleged that Reichel oversaw the whole thing by demanding sales reps engage in “business conversations” about “clinical experience,” which was code for a physician’s prescribing rate.

But most importantly, he was acquitted because his attorneys never denied that he oversaw any of these payments, or that he instructed sales staff to take physicians out “at least twice a week.” They merely argued that “relationship building” is “widely accepted conduct” in the medical community.

They aren’t lying–allowing pharmaceutical companies to pay physicians large sums of money is a widely accepted practice. The question we should be asking ourselves is, why?


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