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Colorado doctor on influential state Medicaid board resigns after Sun report on pharma money

In his email to state officials resigning from the Colorado Drug Utilization Review Board, dated Aug. 16, Dr. Alex Reish wrote that he had done nothing wrong

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A doctor who served on a state advisory board that helps decide when Medicaid patients can be prescribed certain drugs has resigned following a Colorado Sun report that he failed to disclose thousands of dollars in payments and perks from pharmaceutical companies.

In his email to state officials resigning from the Colorado Drug Utilization Review Board, dated Aug. 16, Dr. Alex Reish wrote that he had done nothing wrong and said the media had unfairly targeted him.

“My intentions for joining the board were never to influence the board for ill intentions nor to benefit from secondary gain by pharmaceutical companies,” Reish wrote. “If you feel I did not properly disclose potential conflicts of interest, I apologize. I truly never thought and still do not feel I have any conflicts of interest.”

According to federal records, Reish received more than $10,000 over the past five years in benefits — mostly in the form of free food — from drug companies, many of which have products that come before the board for review. In one instance, he spoke at a board meeting and wrote an op-ed for the board’s newsletter arguing strongly in favor of a drug called Nucynta without revealing that he had received about $1,000 in free food and drinks from the drug’s maker.

When The Sun first reported on Reish in the Aug. 13 edition of The Sunriser newsletter, he said the food and drinks were provided as part of informational sessions for him and his staff to learn more about the drugs and better serve their patients. He was adamant that the perks did not compromise his ability to be objective.

At a board meeting on Aug. 14, a senior lawyer in the Colorado Attorney General’s office admonished board members that such perks need to be disclosed and that board members should recuse themselves from votes and discussions involving companies they have financial ties to in order to protect the board’s integrity. Reish recused himself from two votes at that meeting.

In an email to The Colorado Sun following his resignation, Reish said his decision to step down from the board is not an admission of wrongdoing. He said that media scrutiny of drug company ties to state drug utilization boards could lead to boards “filled by sheltered providers that have no contact with pharmaceutical reps and no clinical experience with newer potentially better and safer medications for their patients.”

“I’ve poured way too much energy and time into this, and at this point I just feel it is sad and hope to get back to being a clinician helping patients,” he wrote. “I’ve learned my lesson to stay away from public boards that are scrutinized for often the wrong reasons.”

The Drug Utilization Review Board, among other things, recommends criteria for when drugs can be prescribed to Medicaid patients — potentially bumping drugs up or down the list of treatment options. That means there could be millions of dollars at stake for drug companies in the board’s decisions, though state Medicaid officials make the final call on the criteria.

The board is split evenly between doctors and pharmacists and also has one non-voting member from the pharmaceutical industry. Board members, who are all volunteers, are required to fill out conflict-of-interest disclosures and keep them updated.

Marc Williams, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, which operates Medicaid in the state, said state officials will post a notice soon seeking new volunteers for the vacant seat on the board.