(Glastonbury, CT) The new U.S. healthcare law signed by President Obama today includes the Physician Payments Sunshine Act – and an important win for the survey and opinion research profession. Thanks to lobbying by the Marketing Research Association (MRA) and targeted outreach by MRA grassroots volunteers, the Sunshine Act excludes incentive payments for doctors who participate in marketing research projects.

MRA’s Director of Government Affairs, Howard Fienberg, PLC, explained, “The Sunshine Act was designed to curb manufacturers’ efforts to influence the prescribing behavior of physicians. We’re grateful that the Congress recognized that the only influence sought through research incentives is to encourage and thank a difficult to reach but highly important community to participate in research.

Section 6002 of the new law (originally known as the Physician Payments Sunshine Act) requires public reporting by pharmaceutical, biologic, medical device and medical supply manufacturers of any “payment or other transfer of value” to a doctor over $10, or $100 aggregate annually. This would have included incentives for participation in research, even if offered as a directed charitable contribution. Requiring such public reporting could have devastated most research with doctors.

Lobbying and grassroots campaigning by MRA resulted in the Act defining “payment or other transfer of value” to exclude “a transfer of anything of value that is made indirectly to a covered recipient through a third party in connection with an activity or service in the case where the applicable manufacturer is unaware of the identity of the covered recipient.” This means that, as long as marketing research is conducted by an independent survey and opinion research company and the manufacturer sponsoring the research does not know who participates in the study, incentives can still be offered as a thank you to physicians who participate in research.

“Requiring public reporting of incentives could have devastated the research profession in this country and harmed the most basic principle of the research process: confidentiality,” said Fienberg.

Grassroots involvement by MRA volunteers was particularly helpful in protecting the research profession. Aaron Nichols (Nichols Research), Rick Seale (Shugoll Research), Marisa Pope (Jackson Associates), Stephenie Gordon (Schlesinger Associates), Lisabeth Clawson-Couturier (Las Vegas Field & Focus), Scott Baker (Adept), Allen Hellman and Debby Schlesinger-Hellman (Schlesinger Associates), and Sharon Chamberlain and Tyler Walker (Chamberlain Research) all met with their legislators or legislators’ staff to persuade them of the need to exclude research from the Sunshine Act. Hearing from constituents means a lot to most legislators -- and meeting with them can make a big impression, as it did in this campaign.

In addition to MRA’s lobbying and grassroots campaign, the Pharmaceutical Marketing Research Group (PMRG) had contracted a lobbying firm to work on this issue.

It is unclear how the Sunshine Act will ultimately affect existing state laws. While it is supposed to preempt similar or less-restrictive payment reporting laws, it is unclear how more restrictive state laws, or those that explicitly require reporting of marketing research payments, will be impacted. Further state legislation and litigation is likely.

MRA has been lobbying to protect research incentives in such legislation and regulation in states across the country for several years (with another notable success in Massachusetts last year), just as they have at the federal level, and will continue to do so.