Bioethics Blogs

Dollars to Doctors: Sun Rises on Sunshine Act’s Open Payments Database

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

Today, Tuesday, September 29, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will release most of the Open Payments database. The public will now have access to the monetary value of gifts, marketing, and payments for clinical testing made by the pharmaceutical industry to physicians. The database is being rolled out 12 days later than planned and with one-third of the 2013 data unavailable until June 2015: There have been some glitches including mix-up of names and wrong provider and license numbers entered.

The Open Payment database is a part of the Sunshine Act, a provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Under this law, entries must include the name and address of the physician, amount and date of payments, the form of the payment, and the nature of the payment (is it for consulting, gifts, entertainment). All gifts and payments over $10 that do not directly benefit patients must be reported.

The goal is to increase transparency and reduce conflict of interest. Knowledge of payments should theoretically increase patient awareness of factors that may effect recommendations made by their physicians. Studies and reports demonstrate that pharmaceutical gifts and marketing visits impact physicians’ prescribing practices.

The American Medical Association supports the database but feels it has had some rollout problems and is not ready for release. Specifically, the AMA feels that a delay is necessary “to allow physicians adequate time to review and seek correction of inaccurate claims made by pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers, and group purchasing organizations.” Physicians have to register with the database to be able to review any entries about them.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.