Doctors Receive Billions from Drug Firms and Medical Device Makers

Drug and medical-device companies paid at least $3.5 billion to doctors and teaching hospitals during the final five months of 2013, according to records released under a provision of the Affordable Care Act.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act included a provision dubbed the Sunshine Act, which requires drug makers and manufacturers of medical devices to disclose payments to physicians and teaching hospitals for services such as consulting or research, The Wall Street Journal reports. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services compiled the records into a database posted online on Tuesday, though the agency said that about 40 percent of the payment information will not identify the recipients because of data problems.

The payments include such items as free meals brought to doctors’ offices by drug company sales representatives, fees paid to doctors to speak about a company’s drug to other doctors at restaurants, consulting fees, and compensation for clinical trial research. Among the payment reported is $122.5 million paid by Roche Holding’s Genentech unit to City of Hope medical center in Duarte, Calif., as royalties on sales of several products including Herceptin and Avastin, both cancer treatments, according to the WSJ.

The push for greater transparency was driven by concern that the money taints prescribing and treatment decisions. Supporters of the Sunshine Act expect the database to provide useful information to patients about their doctors’ relationships with industry and to curb the influence of payments on medical care, according to the WSJ. “The financial relationships between doctors and drug companies and medical-device companies are a source of conflicts of interest,” said Allan Coukell, director of the Pew Prescription Project.

The first batch of data released by CMS on Tuesday covers payments made from Aug. 1 to Dec. 31, 2013. Beginning next year, companies will report full-year data annually. Companies submitted the data to CMS earlier this year. The agency allowed physicians to register with the Open Payments system to get a preview of the payment records, to allow time for them to dispute any reports they believed were inaccurate before the information went public.

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