AUSTIN – A bill to force pharmaceutical companies to report the gifts, trips and perks they give to health care providers remains hamstrung in an influential Senate committee, though most members of the panel support the concept.
The bill's author says the holdup is the result of a fierce last-minute lobbying effort from drug companies, many of which contribute heavily to lawmakers' campaigns.
"The drug companies within the industry caused the disruption," said Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville.
But Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said that couldn't be further from the truth. She said that Lucio's bill is similar to two others filed in the Senate this session and that she's asked the authors to pick one bill to back. So far, she said, they can't seem to agree.
"There's a lot of pride in authorship," said Nelson. "What we didn't want to see happen is for us to pass a bunch of bills that conflict."
Lucio's bill would require pharmaceutical companies and those who market prescription drugs to report to the state all gifts over $75 that they give to health care providers in Texas. The annual reports would be posted online. Research grants, scholarships and free samples of prescription drugs would be excluded from reporting requirements.
It's co-authored by Sens. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, and Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio. And it's similar to a bill being considered in the Senate State Affairs Committee, filed by Dallas Sen. Royce West. All three of these lawmakers, plus two other Democrats who favor such reporting requirements, serve on Nelson's nine-member Health and Human Services Committee.
The bills are the latest addition to a national debate over the influence big pharmaceutical companies can wield over medical research and prescribing patterns.
Nelson said she told Lucio she wouldn't post his bill – a version of which died in her committee in 2007 – until he came to a consensus with West. She said Lucio gave her every assurance that they were going with his, and so she scheduled a hearing for Tuesday.
On Monday, she learned that there was not an agreement and pulled the bill down.
A spokesman for West did not return phone calls.
"This has absolutely nothing to do with the content of the bill, or lobbyists for the bill. I support the concept," Nelson said. Scheduling Lucio's bill for a hearing "was a big mistake," she said.
But Lucio has a different take. He said when Nelson told him she wasn't hearing his bill, she said there were committee members who had serious reservations about it, and didn't stress that not getting behind a single bill would be a barrier.
"It's disappointing, but the federal government may pass legislation on this before we do," he said.
Lobbyists for two different drug companies declined to comment on the details of the bill, or whether they've been pushing for its failure.