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Botox Maker Erases Doctor Payment Records

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Allergan is the only one of the 12 companies that post such payments to pull earlier payments from its site.

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Now you see it. Now you don't.

Since April 2011, drugmaker Allergan (AGN), best known for its wrinkle-fighting drugs Botox and Juvederm, has been posting on its website the payments it made to physicians for promotional speaking and consulting and the value of meals it provided to them.

But the Irvine, Calif., company recently removed all except the most recent payments from its website, erasing the record of those it had paid to help market its products from the third quarter of 2010 to the second quarter of last year.

Allergan's website now includes only those payments it made to doctors in the third quarter of 2011 -- and then only ranges, not specific dollar amounts.

Allergan's removal of the data won't prevent the public from viewing it. ProPublica's Dollars for Docs database of industry payments to doctors includes the figures Allergan had reported for the last half of 2010. Later this month, the company will post data for the full year 2011, and that will be added to the ProPublica database as well.

Allergan is among 12 pharmaceutical companies that post such payments to the Web, either voluntarily or as a result of legal settlements with the US government over allegations of improper marketing and illegal kickbacks to doctors. (Allergan pleaded guilty in September 2010 to a misdemeanor charge of promoting Botox for uses not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. It paid $600 million to resolve related criminal and civil lawsuits.)

Allergan is the only company to pull earlier payments from its site. The other 11 companies simply add new data while maintaining an archive of previous releases.

Allergan spokeswoman Heather Katt said in an email that Allergan remains in compliance with the terms of its corporate integrity agreement with the inspector general of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

As part of that legal agreement, Katt said, Allergan was required to expand its disclosures in a second phase starting in November. In addition to payments for speaking, consulting, and meals, it now posts payments for research, royalties, travel, and educational materials. Allergan decided to take down the earlier disclosures to avoid confusion, she said.

"The earlier reports were accurate, but represented limited data and as such would not provide meaningful or accurate comparisons," Katt said.
Donald White, a spokesman for the health department's inspector general, agreed that Allergan was in compliance with its corporate integrity agreement despite the removal of payment data.

Allergan's Katt said removing the older information was "in the spirit of providing the general public with the most current and comprehensive information."

Every pharmaceutical company will have to publicly report all payments to physicians nationwide beginning next year under a provision of the health-care overhaul known as the Physician Payment Sunshine Act.

Editor's Note: This article by Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber was originally published on ProPublica.org.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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