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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a federal agency tasked with administering government-subsidized health care access, has made public information detailing payments made by drug companies to health care providers.  The information is being published in compliance with a provision in the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and contains payments from the last 5 months of 2013.  The Open Payments tool allows consumers, for the first time, to explore the relationship between their health care provider and medical drug and device companies.

Big Business

Information regarding payments made by pharmaceutical companies to doctors has been hard to come by until now.  The best estimate is that doctors and hospitals received approximately $3.5 billion during that span, with some individual doctors receiving more than half a million dollars each.  The payments can be for anything from speaking fees, grants, promotional trinkets, or more.

Concerns Over Transparency, Undue Influence

With all that money flowing from drug and device manufacturers to doctors, some groups are concerned that important health decisions are being made for financial reasons rather than sound medical judgment.  Several years ago, the New York Times published a story illustrating how these financial arrangements can lead to some doctors possibly prescribing unnecessary and potentially harmful medical products to their patients.  Under the new law, any company that has a product covered by Medicare needs to report any gift over $10.

Another report from CMS is expected in June of 2015, and will cover a full 12 month span.  Hopefully the added scrutiny will lead to more accountability for doctors and hospitals and better care for patients.

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