Merck becomes second Big Pharma company to disclose doc payments

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Merck has begun disclosing payments to U.S. medical and scientific professionals who speak on behalf of the company or its products, detailing approximately $3.7 million in payments for the third quarter, as part of its “voluntary commitment to increase transparency.”

The report covers payments made to speakers in the 2009 third quarter, from July 1 to Sept. 30.  It provides data for the 1,078 physicians and other healthcare professionals who participated in Merck speaking events in the quarter.

On average, speakers participated in two programs each with the average payment totaling $1,548 per program, according to the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based company. The top-paid physicians earned more than $22,500, a dozen were paid at least $17,000, and the payments ranged as low as $150.

Speakers who focused on diabetes, mainly endocrinologists, made up a good part of the list. In fact, the second highest-paid physician on list, Zachary T. Bloomgarden, MD, from Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, who earned $21,500 from Merck in the third quarter, is an endocrinologist who spoke about diabetes.

Merck said that additional payments being made in the third and fourth quarters of 2009 will be combined and disclosed in early 2010.

Comparatively, Merck doled out far less than Eli Lilly, which became the first company to disclose physician payments this summer. Lilly’s first quarter physician payments totaled $22 million, with the highest paid doc receiving more than $70,000.

"Increasing the visibility of our activities across all aspects of our business will enhance the public's trust and increase the level of knowledge and understanding,” said Richard T. Clark, chairman, CEO and president of Merck.