"Public interest" groups — I prefer the more accurate British term, "pressure" groups — continue to press for more disclosure of conflicts of interest in the medical industry. The quetsion becomes, what constitutes a conflict of interest? I've found many recent claims of "conflict of interest" to be quite thin, grasping at straws in order to generate publicity for whoever publishes the claim; but public anger over medical costs makes anyone in the medical profession fair game, and doctors are the least powerful and most plentiful targets. In any industry, there will always be a connection between people who have businesses and those who evaluate the business. The degee of separation is the issue, not whether or not there will be a connection.
But here's a new twist. The NAACP has complained that Medicare does not pay for BiDil, a medication created to reduce heart disease in African-Americans. Insurers state that BiDil is simply a combination of two drugs that are available generically at one-tenth the cost of BiDil, and therefore they prefer to pay for the generic medication instead. The NAACP disagrees, and ascribes failure to prescribe the drug to discrimination.
But here's the twist. Today's Wall Street Journal mentions but carefully avoids drawing conclusions about a grant to the NAACP:
The NAACP has received a $1.5 million grant from the drug's maker, NitroMed Inc., to improve health care for blacks.If a doctor's group were promoting a drug under these circumstances, they would find themselves under intense scrutiny. The NAACP, as a pressure group, escapes scrutiny. Who watches the watchers?