January 19, 2020
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What you should know about the new doctor payment data

Planning to look up payments drug and medical device companies made to your doctor? Be aware of the information’s shortcomings first.

The data’s missing a lot of payments. It covers payments made over only for five months, from August to December 2013. If your doctor received compensation in say, February of last year, that won’t show up. The federal government says future data will be more complete, with information for all 12 months of this year expected next summer.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also said that a third of the payment records companies submitted wouldn’t be released immediately, after concerns about the data’s integrity arose. In investigating one doctor’s complaint, CMS discovered many physicians were assigned erroneous identification numbers. The problems forced the agency to delay the database’s publication.

Some payments were intentionally excluded. Physicians, dentists, podiatrists, chiropractors and optometrists are covered. But drug and medical technology companies don’t have to report payments to other health professionals under the law, such as nurse practitioners.

Companies can also hold off on publicly releasing payments related to research for new products until after gaining FDA approval or four years after the payment was made, whichever comes first, according to a report by ProPublica.

A wide variety of compensation is included. The database includes everything from fees for speaking at events to research grants and entertainment and meals. As ProPublica pointed out, different types of payments indicate varying levels of involvement with a company.

The database has errors. This marks the first time CMS has released this data, so some problems are expected. Drug and medical device manufacturers may make mistakes in submitting the data, and the American Medical Association has said the 45-day window physicians were given to review and dispute payments before Tuesday’s release was insufficient and confusing. Of the nearly 550,000 physicians affected by mandate, only 26,000 were able to register to review their data and pursue corrections for any inaccuracies.

Other sources of information are available. Also check out ProPublica’s Dollars for Docs tool, which has tracked similar information since 2009.


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