The Physician Payments Sunshine Act

 In Medical Malpractice

Earlier this year a little discussed act went into full effect. Introduced by the bipartisan team of Charles Grassley and Herb Kohl, The Sunshine Act passed as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and required all drug and medical device manufactures disclose and make public all financial relationships and payments with physicians and teaching hospitals. Notably not included in the Sunshine Act tracking is the transfer of any product samples or educational materials, the avenue most citizens believe companies use to pursue their physicians. All payments and transfer of values tracked are additional to the everyday solicitations and free samples consumers have become accustomed to in their medical care.

Most patient’s are unaware about the potential safety concerns that arise when conflicts of interests get tangled up with their medical care, but the purpose of these payments and gifts is to influence the doctor’s prescribing habits and companies would not be investing billions of dollars a year if it was not a successful practice.

The director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen, Michael Carome, M.D. explained that even payments that may seem benign, like the funding of clinical trials, often have a “corrupting influence on the practice of medicine”. These financial involvements influence the decisions made for patient’s care and may not be in the best interest of the patient. CMS began collecting data in August 2013 and below are excerpts of the Open Payments data through December 2013 summarized by Dr. Carome:

  • Total disclosed payments: $3.5 billion
  • Additional undisclosed payments: $1.1 billion
    • (prior to the full implementation this year)
  • Number of reported payments: 4.4. million
  • Approximate number of physicians receiving payments: 546,000
  • Approximate number of hospitals receiving payments: 1,360
  • Payments by Purpose:
    • Research: $1.5 billion
    • Company Stock: $1 billion
    • Speaking/Consulting Fees: $380 million
    • Royalties/Licenses: $302 million
    • Travel/Food/Lodging: $167 million
    • Other: $128 million

The data is being collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and published on their Open Payments Website. It may be worth perusing before you’re next appointment.

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