The US Senate is looking at a bill that would force pharmaceutical companies to disclose any payments or gifts they make to doctors.

Senators Chuck Grassley (Republican) and Herb Kohl (Democrat) are introducing legislation which will require “manufacturers of pharmaceutical drugs, devices and biologics to disclose the amount of money they give to doctors through payments, gifts, honoraria, travel and other means”. The bill, said Sen Grassley, is needed because “right now the public has no way to know whether a doctor’s been given money that might affect prescribing habits”.

He added that “the bill is about letting the sun shine in so that the public can know. Whether it’s dinner at a restaurant or tens of thousands of dollars or more in fees and travel, patients shouldn’t be in the dark about whether their doctors are getting money from drug and device makers.” This view was echoed by Sen Kohl, who noted that at a hearing in June, the pharmaceutical industry told the Aging Committee “that they believe their practices are above-board. If that is the case, full disclosure will only serve to prove them right. If that is not the case, [it] will bring their influence-peddling out from the shadows.”

The senators noted that the proposed legislation, which builds on similar initiatives in Minnesota, Vermont, Maine and West Virginia and is called the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, would apply to manufacturers with $100 million or more in annual gross revenues. Not reporting payments would result in fines of $10,000 to $100,000 per violation.

The legislation requires the US Secretary of Health and Human Services to create a website and “post payment information in a clear and understandable manner”. This will need to include any gifts or payments exceeding $25 in value each quarter.

The news was welcomed by the Prescription Project, which says its aim is to end the influence of marketing on physician prescribing. Executive director Robert Restuccia, claimed that the pharmaceutical industry spends $29 billion in marketing to physicians each year “and the often-undisclosed financial relationships have been proven to undermine the quality of health care and increase costs”.

Drugmakers argue that any more legislation is unnecessary as the US Food and Drug Administration already regulates marketing practices.