Sunshine Act May Be Partly Cloudy

The Physician Payments Sunshine Act in Obamacare requires medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturers to publicly report gifts and payments made to physicians and teaching hospitals. This law is intended to bring more openness to the healthcare market when physician data is published on a new public website on or before September 30, 2014. The Sunshine Act  requires the development of a website that publicly reports data about payments that occur between manufacturers or group purchasing organizations and physicians and hospitals. The Sunshine Act is meant to tackle and reduce the influence that the pharmaceutical and medical device companies exercise over medical research, and in doing so, to reduce subsequent influence within physician practices.

Transparency, however, is in the eye of the beholder. Two recent accounts, one in The Atlantic and one in Forbes, describe potential gaps in the Sunshine Act that could defeat the goal. The law allows manufacturers to pay physicians as speakers for Continuing Medical Education (CME) events and not report this payment as long as the companies do not select the speakers or directly pay them. This is problematic since the companies that arrange CME are in business due to the funding they receive from pharmaceutical or medical device companies to create CME programs. The result, some believe, is inherent bias in the selection of speakers and potentially the content. Also, pharmaceutical companies fund CME out of their marketing departments’ budgets and expect a return on investment from any marketing activity.

Though the Sunshine Act will not go into effect until 2014, consumers can find information now on physicians’ payments by manufacturers. The public interest journalism group, Pro-Publica, has a website, Dollars for Doctors, that will give you the scoop. Click here to visit the Dollars for Doctors site.

Click here to read more in The Atlantic, here to read more in Forbes, and here to access the Dollars for Doctors website.

Akumal Sunset, image © Serge Melki / Wikimedia