- The database of payments made to doctors by pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers mandated under the Sunshine Act provision of the Affordable Care Act went live today. The database is the first public release of this kind of data.
- The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released data on on 4.4 million payments, totaling $3.5 billion for the period between August and December of last year.
- The data covers research, consulting and promotional payments as well as any transaction valued at over $10, including gifts, travel and meals. Details are provided down to the travel destination, although identifying information has been removed in about 40% of the records because of unresolved questions.
While CMS still plans to refresh the 2013 data before releasing the 2014 data, the withholding of identifying markers for over a third of the information gives credence to the concerns many industry stakeholders have had about the accuracy of the released information. Consumer advocates have touted the Sunshine Act release as a major victory for transparency, criticizing these kinds of payments as inappropriately influencing physician behavior.
"Research has shown over and over that these financial relationships influence doctors, even a meal," said medical director for Consumers Union health projects John Santa. "Studies also show that doctors believe it does not affect them, but strongly believe it affects other doctors."
The American Medical Association disagrees and remains "extremely concerned" that the data not only contains inaccuracies but may be misleading to patients. President Robert Wah maintains that there are "appropriate relationships in this realm that can help drive innovation in patient care."
Still others express concern that fear of appearing on the list will discourage physicians from participating in needed research. Mary Grealy, president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, called for an increase in the $10 threshold and the provision of more context for payments.