Govt. To Publish Data On What Drug & Device Makers Pay To Individual Doctors & Hospitals

ProPublica's Dollars For Docs tool already lets you sort through available data from some companies.

ProPublica’s Dollars For Docs tool already lets you sort through available data from some companies.

Want to know if your doctor is receiving free lunches and other perks from Pfizer, GSK or some other huge player in the pharmaceuticals or medical device business? Starting in Sept. 2014, that information will be made available to consumers courtesy of the federal government.

Following numerous lawsuits (and billions of dollars in settlements) about payola to physicians, several of the largest drug and medical device companies now have this data on their websites, and the folks at ProPublica have been doing a great job of combining that available info in their searchable Dollars For Docs tool.

As part of the 2010 health care reform law, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services were supposed to have provided the final rules for collecting and publishing the data in time for it be launched in 2013. However, this is the federal government, where things move at a more leisurely pace, and those rules were finally announced today [PDF]

Under the rules, the drug and device companies must start collecting this data — which includes any payments or other “transfers of value” like lunches, travel expenses, gifts, along with any ownership or investment interest — on Aug. 1, and be ready to hand it over to the feds before April 1, 2014. The information is then to be provided on a yearly basis.

The goal is to have this database online in September 2014, allowing consumers to see exactly how much — and in what form — their doctors and hospitals are receiving benefits from outside parties with a vested interest in having their products put into the bodies of patients.

In addition to the payment methods previously mentioned, the companies have to report the following — speaking fees, consulting payments, research, gifts, food, entertainment, honoraria, research grants, royalties and license fees, reports ProPublica.

Because drug companies all currently keep this data in a variety of formats, and they all apparently need a very long time to compile the data properly, the information that gets published in 2014 will only show data for the last half of 2012. So if you see your kid’s pediatrician playing golf with a bunch of reps from Eli Lilly, you can’t just hop on the database a week later to see if his round was accounted for.

But if those payments and perks don’t get reported properly, companies face fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 for each violation (maxing out at $150,000). However, if the company is found to have deliberately not reported a payment, the penalty could go up to $1 million.

It could be argued that even that highest level of fines would be, at best, a slap on the wrist to companies with annual revenues in the billions of dollars.

Consumer advocates have long held that payments and other fringe benefits provided by manufacturers result in some physicians and hospitals pushing products that may not be in the interest of a patient’s health or bank account.

“You should know when your doctor has a financial relationship with the companies that manufacture or supply the medicines or medical devices you may need,” Dr. Peter Budetti, the CMS deputy administrator for program integrity, said in a written statement. “Disclosure of these relationships allows patients to have more informed discussions with their doctors.”

While we all wait patiently for the new database, ProPublica says it is working on expanding its Dollars For Docs tool so that users can sort through data for 15 companies with information through the end of 2012.