As anticipated, on June 6, 2018, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) introduced the Patient Advocacy Transparency Act. Essentially an extension of the Sunshine Act, this legislation would require pharmaceutical companies to report the exchange of funds between industry and patient advocacy groups or professional societies. As written, if passed, this would apply to a range of giving scenarios, including but not limited to the funding of marketing and public relations activities.

Regardless of what happens next with this legislation, the McCaskill legislation is a sign of the times that our industry cannot ignore. Many pharmacos are already proactively disclosing charitable or patient-focused giving as part of their corporate responsibility reports. And some are going beyond transparency to meaningfully spotlight powerful work they are doing in partnership with patient and professional communities.  

McCaskill’s formal call for transparency comes on the heels of years of government-led, category-specific investigations into the exchange of funds between industry and advocacy, including McCaskill’s own opioid prescribing report released in March. Of late, prestigious publications and institutions have been digging into these financial ties with increased fervor.  Kaiser Health launched its “Pre$cription for Power” this April and last March both the New England Journal of Medicine and JAMA Internal Medicine published findings on the topic.  We’ve also seen state-level reporting requirements and a Nevada bill expected to be signed as early as June 15, 2018 would, among other things, require patient advocacy organizations to report all industry payments. 

The facts are clear. This topic has hit a critical mass and, unfortunately, an aversion to transparency by a few has negatively influenced public perception of our industry as a whole.  Regardless of what happens with the legislation itself, there is no going back when it comes to popular opinion. This is not a signal for pharmaceutical companies to hit pause on engaging with advocacy groups or professional societies. Some of the most powerful healthcare initiatives have stemmed from industry-advocacy partnerships, especially when industry brings both insights and funding to the table in order to tackle complex challenges that ultimately improve outcomes for patients.

Instead of seeing these widespread calls for transparency as a reason to retreat, it is wiser to view them as a reminder of two simple truths: transparency is the key to trust and trust is the most important currency we have as an industry. 

About the Author:

Keri is a communications and advocacy relations strategist with experience in a range of therapeutic areas, including multiple sclerosis, mental health, vaccines and oncology. She thrives on problem-solving, providing counsel on complex, ever-changing marketplace dynamics and connecting stakeholders to achieve shared goals. Partnering with clients and her teams, she develops and delivers compelling purpose-driven and award-winning programming. Over her 20-year career, Keri has cultivated an expertise in patient communications and advocacy relations with an emphasis on the power of patient perspectives to educate, motivate and activate audiences.