Many of the comments on the NYT and other articles on the new recommendations for pediatricians and family doctors to put children on brain-damaging statins are expressing outrange that drug companies are taking over the minds of doctors. Don’t blame doctors. We’re being threatened by insurance companies. If we don’t do exactly what drug companies want, we’ll be paid less. In some cases, some of us might loose our jobs. (OKay, we do deserve some blame for not standing up for ourselves!)
I went for a job interview in Portland and in a conversation with the medical director of a large group there, I was told that if I failed to get my patients LDL levels down to 100 “someone will sit down and talk with you.” This particular group was able to offer a better starting salary than average. I had assumed that the reason they could offer more was through efficiencies. During the interview, I learned there was more to it than that. They had special arrangements with drug companies called ‘incentive programs.’ The medical director told me with absolute glee “we keep asking them [meaning drug companies] for money and they keep giving it to us.” He sounded like a kid at Christmas!
This group’s policy is to get everyone’s LDL under 100, regardless of risk factors. Stratifying risk is “too complicated.” So they make it simple for their docs. How convenient for the drug companies. I suspect that because this organization has such an aggressive general policy, the drug companies reward them handsomely for taking such a progressive position. They can offer about $50,000 more per year than doctors working in their own, independent offices.
HMSA is Hawaii’s largest medical insurance company. They are paying me to prescribe statins to people who have had heart attacks. Next year, they will pay me to prescribe statins to every single one of my diabetic patients. If I don’t I may loose about $20,000 and my entire group will be penalized financially as well. [Update: As of July 22, thanks in part to consumer concerns, HMSA has scrapped the plan to require all diabetics get statins. Thank you, Hawaii, for your help. And thank you HMSA for listening!]
If any of this disturbs you, please write to John Berthiaume MD, HMSA Vice President/Medical Director. 818 Keeaumoku Street, Honolulu, HI 96814 and tell him what you think. Or, you can write to the medical director of your own insurance company and let them know what you think about your payments going into programs that force doctors to write bad prescriptions or loose money!