The Israeli National Health Insurance Law was amended in 2010 to require the disclosure of payments above 2500 NIS from pharmaceutical companies (PCs) to medical personnel and organizations. We examined if the law had an impact on the relationship between physicians in the Israeli health system and the pharmaceutical industry.
We conducted 42 in-depth semi-structured interviews with representatives of relevant stakeholders regarding the effects and extent of the law and the interviewees’ attitudes about regulating the relationship between physicians and PCs. In addition, we analyzed reports on payments from PCs to various components of the health system.
The majority of interviewees agreed that transparency is important to the relationship between PCs and physicians and none of them opposed the disclosure of payments. Most interviewees reported to have witnessed a change in the regulatory climate of the relationship between PCs and physicians, prompted mostly by self-regulatory measures of the pharmaceutical industry. The most significant change in this relationship appeared to be the enactment of contractual relations between PCs and physicians. There was a pervasive feeling that self-regulation is more effective than state regulation. The impact of the law on the behavior of individual physicians was claimed to be limited at best. Suggested causes were lack of awareness of the law, particularly among physicians; ambiguous definition of “payments” and loopholes in the law that attract other forms of remuneration to physicians and lack of enforcement of the law. According to reports published by the Ministry of Health, Pharma Israel, and the Israeli Medical association, although there had been some disclosure of payments by both donors and beneficiaries, there were inconsistencies between the total payments disclosed by PCs and those disclosed by their beneficiaries.
There is a broad agreement that transparency is important to the PCs-physicians relationship. In addition, it seems that there was a change in the regulatory climate of that relationship; however, the feeling among the stakeholders is that self-regulation is more effective than state regulation. Therefore, efforts should focus on enforcement of the law and deterrence of its violations, possibly by investigating discrepancies between disclosed payment by donors and beneficiaries. The law should be amended to close loopholes. Furthermore, there should be periodic follow up of relevant databases, and relevant stakeholders should be interviewed in order to seek feedback and identify problems in implementation.