Things are unfolding reasonably faster now related to the financial relationship between the pharmaceutical companies and the medical profession. All these issues are getting increasingly dragged into the public debate where government can no longer play the role of a mere bystander.
Last month, around middle of July, most of the leading English business dailies of India reported that much-awaited “Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP)” authored by the Department of Pharmaceuticals, quite in line with the amended guidelines for the medical profession by the Medical Council of India (MCI), is expected to be notified by the government by August, 2012 for implementation by the entire pharmaceutical industry on a voluntary basis for six months, to start with.
Department of Revenue now steps in:
Closely following the recent series of events, it now appears that there is a good possibility of framing a robust financial regulation by the Government of India to make the disclosure of all payments made to the physicians by the pharmaceutical companies’ mandatory, like the ‘Physician Payments Sunshine Act in the USA’.
I reckon, this is just a matter of time that similar steps are taken in India, perhaps in stages.
CBDT disallows expenses on all ‘freebies’ to Doctors:
However, taking the first step closer to that direction, Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), which is a part of Department of Revenue in the Ministry of Finance has now decided to disallow expenses on all ‘freebies’ to Doctors by the Pharmaceutical Companies in India.
A circular dated August 1, 2012 of the CBDT that the any expenses incurred by the pharmaceutical companies on gifts and other ‘freebies’ given to the doctors will no longer be allowed as business expenses.
MCI Guidelines are the basis:
The above decision of the CBDT is based on the notification of the Medical Council of India (MCI) dated December 10, 2009 amending the “Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics), Regulations 2002”, prohibiting the medical practitioners and their professional associations from taking any gift, travel facility, hospitality, cash or monetary grant from the pharmaceutical and allied health sector Industries. Amended guidelines of the MCI came into force with effect from December 14, 2009.
Areas of stricter MCI regulations: The above notification of MCI clearly specifies stricter regulations for doctors in their relationship with the ‘pharmaceutical and allied health sector industry and associations’ in the following areas: 1. Gifts 2. Travel facilities 3. Hospitality 4. Cash or Monetary grants 5. Medical Research 6. Maintaining Professional Autonomy 7. Affiliation 8. Endorsement
Tax Assessing Officers have also been instructed:
Based on this amendment, CBDT has now decided that all claims related to expenses incurred in providing the above mentioned or similar ‘freebies’ in violation of the provisions of Regulations 2002 of the MCI on ‘Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics’ of the doctors, shall now be inadmissible under section 37(1) of the Income Tax Act being an expense prohibited by the law.
This disallowance shall be made in the hands of all such pharmaceutical or allied health sector industries or other assesses which have provided the ‘freebies’ mentioned above and claimed it as deductible business expenses in their respective accounts against income.
CBDT has directed its assessing officers, with the above circular, to follow this new practice.
“INADMISSIBILITY OF EXPENSES INCURRED IN PROVIDING FREEBEES TO MEDICAL PRACTITIONER BY PHARMACEUTICAL AND ALLIED HEALTH SECTOR INDUSTRY
CIRCULAR NO. 5/2012 [F. NO. 225/142/2012-ITA.II], DATED 1-8-2012
It has been brought to the notice of the Board that some pharmaceutical and allied health sector Industries are providing freebees (freebies) to medical practitioners and their professional associations in violation of the regulations issued by Medical Council of India (the ‘Council’) which is a regulatory body constituted under the Medical Council Act, 1956.
2. The council in exercise of its statutory powers amended the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002 (the regulations) on 10-12-2009 imposing a prohibition on the medical practitioner and their professional associations from taking any Gift, Travel facility, Hospitality, Cash or monetary grant from the pharmaceutical and allied health sector Industries.
3. Section 37(1) of Income Tax Act provides for deduction of any revenue expenditure (other than those failing under sections 30 to 36) from the business Income if such expense is laid out/expended wholly or exclusively for the purpose of business or profession. However, the explanation appended to this sub-section denies claim of any such expense, if the same has been incurred for a purpose which is either an offense or prohibited by law.
Thus, the claim of any expense incurred in providing above mentioned or similar freebees in violation of the provisions of Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002 shall be inadmissible under section 37(1) of the Income Tax Act being an expense prohibited by the law. This disallowance shall be made in the hands of such pharmaceutical or allied health sector Industries or other assesse which has provided aforesaid freebees and claimed it as a deductible expense in its accounts against income.
4. It is also clarified that the sum equivalent to value of freebees enjoyed by the aforesaid medical practitioner or professional associations is also taxable as business income or income from other sources as the case may be depending on the facts of each case. The Assessing Officers of such medical practitioner or professional associations should examine the same and take an appropriate action.
This may be brought to the notice of all the officers of the charge for necessary action.”
The turning point:
In 2010, ‘The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health’ expressed its deep concern that “the evil practice” of inducement of doctors continued because the Medical Council of India had no jurisdiction over the pharma industry and it could not enforce the code of ethics on it.’
It was widely reported that the letter of the Congress Member of Parliament, Dr. Jyoti Mirdha to the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, attaching a bunch of air tickets to claim that ‘doctors and their families were beating the scorching Indian summer with a trip to England and Scotland, courtesy a pharmaceutical company’, compelled the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to initiate inquiry and action on the subject.
The letter had claimed that as many as 30 family members of 11 doctors from all over India enjoyed the hospitality of the pharmaceutical company.
In addition Dr. Mirdha reportedly wrote to the PMO that “The malpractice did not come to an end because while medical profession (recipients of incentives) is subjected to a mandatory code, there is no corresponding obligation on the part of the healthcare industry (givers of incentives). Result: Ingenious methods have been found to flout the code.”
The report also indicated at that time that the Department of Pharmaceuticals is trying to involve the Department of Revenue under the Ministry of Finance to explore the possibilities in devising methods to link the money trail to offending companies.
Be that as it may, it now appears that the new ball game of working out winning pharmaceutical marketing strategies and practices will no longer be driven by more of a ‘deep pocket’ syndrome and less of ‘cerebral power’, by all concerned.
If the new regulations are implemented effectively by the Government, I shall not be surprised to witness a dramatic change in the prescription share of various companies in the next 3 to 5 years, thereby impacting the ranking of these companies in the Indian pharmaceutical industry league table significantly, separating men from the boys.
Thus, the name of the game in the pharmaceutical marketing space, in not too distant future, is expected to be decided by the winning innovative ideas, whose time has just become ripe.
By: Tapan J Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.