Health Advocacy Organizations: A Lot of Undisclosed Pharmaceutical Cash

Today’s Managing Health Care Costs Indicator is $3,211,144

This month’s American Journal of Public Health  has an article by researchers at Columbia University reviewing disclosure practices of health advocacy organizations.

In 2007, Eli Lilly gave grants totaling over $3.2 million to 161 health advocacy organizations across the country.  Many of these do educational programs and advocacy which encourage use of medications, and Lilly’s donations parallel the clinical areas of the pharmaceutical company’s sales.   

The biggest health advocacy organizations are household names, like American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and American Diabetes Association.  Many health advocacy organizations have state and local chapters, so that Lilly ultimately donated to a total of 161 organizations, 40% of which acknowledged the donation on their website, in their annual report, or elsewhere. That number was a mere 20% for the 114 neuroscience health advocacy organizations, while it was 59% for endocrinology organizations and 67% for oncology.    

The researchers looked at Eli Lilly’s 2007 calendar year disclosures because they were the first available, and they felt that there would be little sentinel effect from the disclosures.           

Should we care?  The amount of dollars here are small – it’s nothing like the huge influence that unnamed donors can have on political races since the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision.  When I looked at the Lilly registry for 2010, I couldn’t locate “astroturf” organizations that looked like their entire reason for existence was to promote (Lilly) medications.

I think this is another area where transparency is better than opacity, and I suspect that drug company sponsorships will be better disclosed going forward as a result of this research.   The National Care Foundation, a league of health advocacy organizations, changed its policies prior to this article to encourage full reporting.