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Open Payments makes its public debut

The website details payments made to doctors from third parties but critics complain of a lack of context

After months fraught with website glitches and widespread industry opposition, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has made public Open Payments, its “new system of records” detailing physicians’ receipt of payment and gifts from pharmaceutical companies and other third-party business associates.

The Physician Payment Sunshine Act originated as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. A CMS final rule in 2013 mandated creation of Open Payments to implement the act. The Open Payments portal enables physicians and those with whom they do business to post all transactions that occurred between them that exceeded $10 in 2013. That data is now available to the public on the Open Payments website.

Tuesday’s release of data is only the first, CMS said in a press release. The data in the initial release contains 4.4 million payments valued at nearly $3.5 billion attributable to 546,000 individual physicians and almost 1,360 teaching hospitals, CMS said. Future reports will be published annually and will include a full 12 months of payment data, beginning in June 2015.

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CMS noted that about 40 percent of the names of those recipients who received payments have been withheld due to concerns of data inconsistency.

“Using this new data, it is now possible to conduct a wide range of analyses of payments made by drug and device manufacturers,” said Shantanu Agrawal, MD, deputy administrator and director of the Center for Program Integrity at CMS, in the press release. “Open Payments does not identify which financial relationships are beneficial and which could cause conflicts of interest. It simply makes the data available to the public. So while these data could discourage payments and others transfers of value that might have an inappropriate influence on research, education, and clinical decision-making, they could also help identify relationships that lead to the development of beneficial new technologies.”

But many physician organizations have opposed Open Payments, including the American Medical Association, which has continuously questioned and challenged the Open Payments process since its inception.

“Questions from confused patients are especially likely, given that the online database is not expected to offer much context for the financial interactions it reports between physicians and manufacturers of medical devices and drugs,” the AMA said. “While CMS is required by law to provide such context – a key to true transparency – the agency has been unresponsive to AMA calls for greater public education.”

For doctors who have accuracy concerns, disputes can be filed up until Dec. 31 in time for the next data release.

This story is based on a report appearing on Medical Practice Insider.