For Med Free Speech

The Post reports:

The Obama administration intensified its public campaign against health-care fraud Wednesday … as prosecutors unveiled a record $2.3 billion settlement with Pfizer.

Except this “fraud” is suggesting to doctors that they do things that it is completely legal for them to do:

Pfizer Inc. agreed to a $1.2 billion criminal fine, the largest in U.S. history, and a felony plea by a subsidiary to close an investigation into what government lawyers described as fraudulent marketing of drugs.  … “When a drug is marketed or promoted for non- authorized, so-called off-label uses, any use not approved by the FDA — as was the case here — public health may be at risk,” Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli said at a news conference in Washington. … Doctors can prescribe medicines for off-label conditions — uses not approved by U.S. regulators. Drugmakers aren’t allowed to promote medicines for those purposes.  Proceeds from the settlement will go to U.S. government health agencies. … The False Claims Act, dating to the Civil War, lets people file fraud claims on behalf of the government. Six whistleblowers will share $102 million of the settlement.

Alcohol companies would similarly be prosecuted for marketing “fraud” if they paid for ads truthfully telling people that most studies find that moderate alcohol drinkers are healthier than those who consume no alcohol.  Of course it is legal for such firms to pay academics and pundits to say such things – such firms just aren’t allowed to say such things directly.

U.S. citizens do not have free speech regarding health and medicine.  Academics and pundits mostly have free speech about such things, and individuals may speak freely if they don’t pay to do so.  But otherwise we have decided that health and medicine are too important to allow free speech – with free speech people might be persuaded to disagree with the authorities.

In contrast, I am persuaded that the usual arguments for freedom of speech apply well to health and medicine.  And I certainly don’t think we should use the word “fraud” to describe people saying true things that it is illegal for them to say.

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