Physicians have been getting paid by drug and device manufacturers for years, with payments covering everything from speaking fees and lunches to research grants. However, the payments were largely hidden from public view until the Affordable Care Act’s Open Payments program debuted in 2014. The program recently reported data for 2016, and payments and transfers topped $8 billion, continuing an upward trajectory.
It’s not clear why the payments have increased over the last three years, but it might have to do with more accurate reporting, Katie Pawlitz, a health-care attorney with Reed Smith LLP, told me. “This could be the result of CMS and others continuing to educate the industry and public about Open Payments and to release guidance about the requirements,” Pawlitz said.
Payments and transfers exceeded $7 billion in each of the two most recent years previously reported, totaling $7.49 billion in 2014 and $7.52 billion in 2015.
The Open Payments program requires manufacturers of drugs, devices, and other medical supplies, along with group purchasing organizations, to report certain payments to physicians and teaching hospitals. The program is designed to prevent companies from using payments to physicians and hospitals as an incentive for them to prescribe or buy a company's products.
While the program is intended to help consumers choose their health-care providers, it’s unlikely that the average consumer is even aware of its existence or is actively using it, Danielle Sloane, a health-care attorney with Bass, Berry & Sims, told me.
At the same time, however, the data can be useful for hospitals and physician employers to track industry relationships with their physicians. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services added some new features to the latest data, allowing users to compare a physician’s data with national and specialty data, as well as allowing for a review of payment data on a state level.
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