The Obama administration is about to mandate strict new reporting requirements that will, in effect, require that every gift to a doctor from a pharma or device company be recorded on a publicly accessible government website.
This initiative was authorized in the federal health care law, but the details were unspecified and implementation delayed. Senators Charles Grassley (Republican from Iowa) and Herb Kohl (Democrat from Wisconsin) are the major political champions of transparency laws and their inclusion in the Affordable Care Act.
A 2009 MEDPAC report detailed the rationale behind the law, along with the evidence supporting the not-hard-to-believe assertion that pervasive, endemic financial relationships between industry and physicians influence the drugs and devices physicians prescribe to patients, not always to the benefit of patients and society.
The new standards specify that any company selling any product covered by Medicare or Medicaid (i.e., all of industry) will have to report all payments to all doctors not in its direct employ. This includes not only the $30,000/year “consultant fees” paid to department chairs in barely-concealed quid pro quos for support of the agendas of industry partners, but all payments, including a $25 lunch for a single physician. The government will then post the information on a publicly accessible website. I can’t tell from this article if every doctor will be called out by name and exact amount of money received.
Who knows whether the new transparency will discourage physician collaboration with industry and “chill innovation” (as the quoted device lobby spokesman asserts), or result in greater “accountability” by physicians and awareness by consumers (Sen. Grassley). One thing is clear: investigative reporters are chomping at the bit for the website launch. Pharma and device makers already report this data, but reporters today have to slog through individual websites to track the money trail between industry and doctors. With the new website, as the Columbia Journalism Review reports, the media will be able to keep track of physicians’ relationships with industry — and report what they find to the public — much more easily.
Robert Pear, “U.S. to Force Drug Firms to Report Money Paid to Doctors,” The New York Times, January 16, 2012.
Curtis Brainard, “Does Big Pharma Pay Your Doctor?” Columbia Journalism Review, January 19, 2012.