Saturday, October 4, 2014

New Website Born of Healthcare Law Discloses Billions of Dollars Paid to Doctors and Hospitals by Drug and Device Firms

ALLGOV | Oct 3, 2014 | Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley

Thanks to Obamacare and the development of a new website disclosing payments to physicians and teaching hospitals, it’s now known that billions of dollars has been exchanged between medical practitioners and industry in just a few months.

For example, from August to December 2013, pharmaceutical manufacturers and device companies issued 4.4 million payments to more than 500,000 health care professionals and teaching hospitals that totaled $3.5 billion, The New York Times reported. This total included $380 million in speaking and consulting monies that drug and device businesses gave to doctors.

The website, established as part of the Affordable Care Act, tracks all gifts valued at more than $10 given by manufacturers of drugs, medical devices and medical supplies that have at least one product covered by Medicare or Medicaid. This includes everything from lunches that salesmen provide physicians to listen to a spiel touting a new drug to travel expenses to multi-million-dollar research grants.

“When you look at why do drug companies and device companies make gifts and offer consulting payments and honoraria to physicians, the main goal is to influence prescribing practices,” Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, told the Times. “The interest of those companies is to improve their financial bottom line, and not necessarily represent the best interest of patients.”

Pfizer appears to have the most physicians in its Rolodex. That drug giant paid 142,600 doctors in 2013, according to ProPublica. Next was AstraZenica at 111,200. There are between 800,000 and 900,000 active doctors in the United States.

“Research has shown over and over that these financial relationships influence doctors, even a meal,” John Santa, medical director for health projects with Consumers Union, told the Associated Press. “Studies also show that doctors believe it does not affect them, but strongly believe it affects other doctors.”

The website is still a work in progress. It doesn’t have all the information it’s required to have and some of the data it does show is incorrect. It’s also not as user-friendly as it could be. That’s not so surprising when you learn that the site’s developer, CGI Federal, was the same company that put together the original site.

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