If you hired a roofer, would it make you uncomfortable to find out that the shingles the roofer recommended are manufactured by a company the roofer has received cash or gifts from? The roofer’s relationship with the shingle maker could have had no bearing on the recommendation. Maybe that shingle brand just happened to be the best choice. But wouldn’t you prefer to have all the information before making your choice anyway? The doctor-patient relationship is another example of when it’s important to have all pertinent information. And that’s precisely what lawmakers aim to provide to patients through the Physician Payment Sunshine Act.
The Sunshine Act is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and will require manufacturers of drugs, medical devices, and biologicals that participate in US federal health care programs (like Medicare and Medicaid) to report certain payments and items of value given to doctors and teaching hospitals. By this August, these manufacturers will be required to start reporting all of these transactions to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on an annual basis. CMS will then add this info to a public and searchable database, which will go live in September 2014.
There’s nothing wrong with these companies giving doctors medical devices to use, sample medications (not for resale), payment for their consulting or research services, or educational materials, etc. In fact, these exchanges are meant to benefit patients by furthering innovation and research in medicine, lessening their burden in paying for drugs, informing them about their condition, and more. However, the lack of transparency about these arrangements that has existed until now can give the appearance that doctors are financially motivated to choose certain devices or drugs. Bringing this information to light will not only empower patients to make better decisions through increased knowledge, it will also prevent the opportunity for impropriety, which is clearly in the patients’ best interest.
To learn more about the Sunshine Act, what must be reported, and what’s exempt from being reported, read the American Medical Association’s FAQs.
Will you look up your doctor’s financial relationships with medical drug and device manufacturers when this information becomes public? Tell us why or why not below.