In 2009, Massachusetts took a national lead in banning gifts of more than $50 to doctors from pharmaceutical and device companies. The idea was that doctors should be making such decisions on the merits, and an increasing array of data suggested that subtle forms of persuasion — including small gifts like dinners — could cloud the decisions of such doctors.

Indeed, some of the most interesting research I’ve seen suggests a U-like relationship on the effectiveness of (effective) “bribes” — both small and large are effective, while middle sized bribes are less effective. (Large are effective because, well, everyone has a price. Middle sized are not so effective because people realize they’re being bribed. Small are effective because people don’t realize they’re being bribed, but patterns of reciprocity get built subconsciously, without the target even being aware.)

These studies are not uncontested, and there are many who believe the ban is unnecessary. And if there were strong evidence suggesting the ban had no effect or was unnecessary, then of course, it should be lifted. 

But astonishingly, even the great Deval Patrick is now apparently leaning towards removing the ban. The apparent reason? Pressure from restaurants who suffer the most when doctors can’t be the targets of gifts. 

Could anything be more absurd? (Actually yes: Now a chocolate shoe maker is joining the fight against the ban since it is hurting his chocolate shoe business.)

If the ban made sense, it can’t make sense to repeal it because restaurants want more customers. If the ban doesn’t make sense, then produce the data to say so, and rely on that data. 

There’s a campaign to resist the repeal here

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