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From Health Law Daily, September 30, 2014

Let the sunshine in: Open Payments data released

By Melissa Skinner, JD

CMS released the first wave of data under the Physician Payments Sunshine Act (Sunshine Act) today, September 30, 2014. The law sets up the open payments, which is a system that records and publishes data on payments made by drug and medical device companies to physicians. While Senator Chuck Grassley (R- Iowa), the co-author of the legislation, offered optimistic support of the data roll-out, others have recently expressed hesitance about the efficacy of the online database.

The Act. According to Grassley, the Sunshine Act, which was implemented under Section 6002 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148), “requires drug and medical device companies to disclose the payments they make to doctors for speaking fees, research grants, trips, and other items of value.” The details of these transactions will, in turn, be maintained by CMS and publicly available on its website.

Data collection. Grassley described the data collection effort that was required in order to create the open payments system like this: “After years of data reporting, database mechanical work, and review of accuracy from doctors, the payment data will become public for the first time.” Grassley also noted that his personal staff received “regular briefings” from CMS regarding the launch of the database. According to CMS, the first round of data, which is being released now, “contains 4.4 million payments valued at nearly $3.5 billion attributable to 546,000 individual physicians and almost 1,360 teaching hospitals.” Future reports are expected to include 12 months of data and will be released annually starting in June of 2015.

Recent comments, controversy. In early September, the American Medical Association (AMA) released a survey that found that, as of August 2014, the open payments site was not user friendly (see AMA asks: Why is Open Payments site closed, September 3, 2014). The survey specifically highlighted such problems as data inaccuracies, poor organization and functionality, and the “inability to correctly match individual physicians with reported data.” Grassley acknowledged certain problems with the site stating, “The roll-out won’t be perfect,” and noting that, “some information will be withheld because CMS wanted to protect doctors from a small amount of reports that might be imprecise.” However, he also maintained that the site would eventually become complete and “will be helpful in shining light on a part of medicine most people haven’t had time or opportunity to consider.”

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