The Sunshine Act has been getting a lot of attention lately with CMS’s comment period set to wind down on February 17. Last week the NY Times ran a front-page article titled, “U.S. to Force Drug Firms to Report Money Paid to Doctors” by Robert Pear. The article summarized the act, which mandates all life science companies with at least one product covered by Medicare and Medicaid to publicly disclose payments to doctors other than its own employees. The article quotes Senator Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who is obviously pleased to see movement on one of his initiatives as saying, “The goal is to let the sun shine in and make information available to foster accountability”.
Consumers will benefit from the new rules starting in 2013 when the data captured is made public through a searchable website. The administration says the database, “will permit patients to make better-informed decisions when choosing health care professionals and making treatment decisions”. The driving force behind the push for more transparency is the potential influence a life sciences company may get by providing even small perks such as a catered lunch on the low end to lucrative consulting arrangements and product royalties on the high end.
This week an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Dr. Thomas Stossel provided a strong viewpoint against the Sunshine act and the administrative burden that will be imposed on doctors. Judging by the 88 comments made so far to the article, I think it’s fair to say the viewpoint is not without controversy.
Regardless of your view on the Sunshine Act, my guess is that the potential impact on patients was an important factor in the decision to make a searchable public database for consumers a reality. Kyruus data from 2009 – 2011 shows that approximately 30% of all physicians have had some interaction with life science companies. Using numbers from the CDC that estimate there are approximately 950M patient visits each year in the United States, that would be almost 300M visits per year that may be influenced by physician-industry interactions. We’ll have to wait until 2013 to see how patients use the database, but so far there hasn’t been a shortage of strong opinions.