Open Payments Website Launches, Reveals $3.5 Billion in Payments

The first round of Open Payments data, known as the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, were made public Tuesday and revealed 4.4 million payments valued at nearly $3.5 billion paid out to 546,000 individuals and almost 1346 teaching hospitals.

The first round of Open Payments data, known as the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, were made public Tuesday and presented information on consulting fees, research grants, travel reimbursements, and other gifts provided to physicians and hospitals by the healthcare industry.

The data currently include financial relationships for the last 5 months of 2013 and contains 4.4 million payments valued at nearly $3.5 billion, according to CMS. Moving forward, reports will be published annually and, beginning June 2015, will include a full 12 months of data.

The $3.5 billion went to roughly 546,000 individuals and almost 1346 teaching hospitals. However, just 26,000 physicians (5%) and 400 teaching hospitals (30%) actually registered and reviewed the payments attributed to them. Currently, 40% of the records are de-identified, but they should be fully identifiable in 2015.

According to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, the database will increase transparency so the public can better understand the relationships among healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies.

“This initial public posting of data is only the first phase of the Open Payments program,” she said in a statement. “In coming weeks, we will be adding additional data and tools that will give consumers, researchers, and others a detailed look into this industry and its financial arrangements.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), co-author of the Sunshine Act, admitted that the rollout is not perfect and that CMS is withholding some information in order to protect physicians from some reports that may be imprecise.

“Transparency shouldn’t stop doctors from receiving a payment if they want to,” Mr Grassley said. “It should empower consumers to learn whether their doctors take payments and if so, why, and whether that matters to them.”

He added that he expects the database will improve as doctors, drug and device companies, and CMS update and refine the information published.

The Sunshine Act remains a source of concern for some of the medical community. The American Medical Association (AMA) has been vocal about inaccurate data, the short review time period, the fact that just 26,000 of 550,000 of physicians affected were able to review the data, and repeated site shut downs.

AMA President Robert M. Wah, MD, said Tuesday that not all interactions between physicians and industry are inappropriate or unethical and some relationships drive innovation in patient care.

“Patients deserve to have access to accurate information, yet publishing inaccurate data leads to misinterpretations, harms reputations, and undermines the trust that patients have in their physicians,” Dr Wah said in a statement. “It can also discourage research and care delivery improvements that benefit patients.”

CMS did clarify in its press release that financial ties do not necessarily signal wrongdoing, and it is working closely with stakeholders to better understand these interactions.

“Open Payments does not identify which financial relationships are beneficial and which could cause conflicts of interest,” Shantanu Agrawal, MD, deputy administrator and director of the Center for Program Integrity at CMS, said in a statement. “It simply makes the data available to the public. So while these data could discourage payments and others transfers of value that might have an inappropriate influence on research, education, and clinical decision-making, they could also help identify relationships that lead to the development of beneficial new technologies.”