07/15/2013 - Starting in 2014, Americans will be able to get detailed information about gifts and payments made by manufacturers of drugs and medical devices to doctors and teaching hospitals.
Reporting and public availability of this information are required under the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, part of the sweeping health care legislation adopted by Congress in March 2010. The Pew Charitable Trusts has advocated since early 2007 for greater disclosure of these payments—which generally take the form of speaking fees, gifts, and honoraria—arguing that they represent potential conflicts of interest that can affect doctors’ choices and patient care. The industry spends billions of dollars a year marketing its products to doctors and hospitals.
But after the sunshine act’s initial inclusion in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, implementation proved slow, and the coalition pushing for passage of the final rule had to keep prodding. Along with other advocates desiring more transparency about payments, and industry groups concerned about the new requirements, Pew worked to shape the regulations and spur the Obama administration to release first a draft and then the final version. That effort included congressional testimony, media interviews, and meetings with administration officials.
The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released the final rule Feb. 1, 2013, more than a year later than the originally scheduled date of Oct. 1, 2011. Under the rule, drugmakers and medical equipment manufacturers will start collecting the data later this year and reporting it to the government in early 2014. The information must be available to the public on a government website by the end of September 2014. Pew continues to work with the federal centers to clarify the rule.
Dr. Daniel Carlat, who directs Pew’s prescription project and testified about the law before Congress, says the information will be of great use to consumers specifically and to those concerned about the working of the health care system generally. “By disclosing financial transactions between doctors and drug companies, we can distinguish the healthy relationships from the unhealthy and, ultimately, improve patient care,” he says.
The financial links between doctors and such businesses are pervasive. According to a study published in 2010 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 84 percent of U.S. physicians have some kind of financial relationship with industry, including receiving payments, drug samples, or, most often, meals or gifts. About 14 percent of physicians reported being paid by one or more companies for services such as speaking engagements, consulting, or enrolling patients in clinical trials.
Pew’s prescription project seeks to ensure transparency in physician-industry relationships and promotes policies to reduce or manage conflicts of interest that could affect patient care.
For more information, go to pewhealth.org/prescriptionproject.