CMS launches Open Payments website

September 30, 2014

CMS has released 4.4 million payment records made from drug and device manufacturers to physicians and teaching hospitals.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has released 4.4 million payment records, totaling nearly $3.5 billion, made from drug and device manufacturers to physicians and teaching hospitals during the last five months of 2013.

As a requirement of the Affordable Care Act, CMS has launched its Open Payments website. It currently contains payment records for 546,000 physicians and 1,360 teaching hospitals, including gifts, meals, travel expenses, and teaching fees. 

READ: AMA voices 'widespread concerns' over Sunshine Act launch

While CMS argues that the release promotes transparency within the healthcare industry, physician advocate groups argue that releasing the data without context may confuse consumers.

“Financial ties among medical manufacturers’ payments and health care providers do not necessarily signal wrongdoing,” CMS said in a written statement. “Given the importance of discouraging inappropriate relationships without harming beneficial ones, CMS is working closely with stakeholders to better understand the current scope of the interactions among physicians, teaching hospitals, and industry manufacturers.”

The American Medical Association (AMA) has long voiced concerns over the release, including whether the data is accurate and if it will mislead consumers.

“Publicly reporting industry payments to individual physicians can imply, wrongly, that such payments are always inappropriate,” the AMA said in a written statement. “Some may be, but to be able to make an informed judgment, it is vital to be able to set the financial information in context. Just because a physician has a relationship with industry does not automatically mean that his or her professional judgment has been influenced inappropriately.”

Beginning in June 2015, the website will contain a year’s worth of data and will be updated annually. CMS plans to issue new tools to make the data more searchable. However, the initial launch of the Open Payments website has not been without glitches.

Next: Discrepancy in the payment data

 

Although physicians were given 45 days to review their information and dispute any claims, those days were not consecutive. After a large discrepancy in data was revealed CMS temporarily disabled the Open Payments website for nearly two weeks, and pushed back the review deadline.

More than 26,000 physicians and 400 teaching hospitals registered to review their data before it was made public. But the AMA argues that physicians were not given adequate notice when the review website was taken offline.

“Many physicians reported making numerous calls to the CMS Help Desk for assistance in registering,” the AMA said in a written statement. “A 360-page guidance document that CMS originally provided to help physicians through the process failed to detail all the steps involved to register with the system, review personal reports, and seek correction of any inaccurate data.”

Due to the reported inaccuracies in the review period, CMS de-identified about one-third of the payment records in the first release, so the payment recipients’ names are not listed.

The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) has voiced concerns over whether physicians will be able to review those de-identified records before they are eventually made public.

“This could negatively affect physicians who have previously registered for the Open Payments System and did not locate and identify a payment report in their name and, therefore, did not have the opportunity to review and dispute any potential discrepancies,” the AOA said in a written statement.

CMS has withheld an additional 199,000 records from the first release. The agency said that 190,000 of those records were withheld because they were subject to a pending U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of trade secrets. The remaining 9,000 records were withheld due to ongoing disputes.