The Affordable Care Act contains a provision known as the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which requires the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to establish a national databank containing information on the financial relationships between physicians (which includes dentists, chiropractors, and other physician specialties) and teaching hospitals, applicable manufacturers, and group purchasing organizations (GPOs). CMS launched its Open Payments website on September 30, 2014, making its database available to the public.
The database is populated by information reported to CMS by applicable manufacturers and GPOs regarding their payments or other transfers of value to physicians and teaching hospitals. It is important to note that this reported information specifically includes any ownership or investment interest that physicians (and their immediate family members) have in the manufacturers and GPOs.
CMS encourages physicians and teaching hospitals to register with the Open Payments website. While registration is voluntary, the reported information is made available to registrants before being made public, and registrants are given an opportunity to dispute any reported information. In fact, there is a mobile app and other resources that allow physicians, teaching hospitals, manufacturers, and GPOs to track provider and industry contact details, share information, and track payments and other transfers of value.
According to CMS and as reported, 4.4 million payments valued at nearly $3.5 billion were made to 546,000 individual physicians and 1,360 teaching hospitals in the last five months of 2013. The website will provide future reports on an annual basis. Beginning in June 2015, it is expected to report twelve full months of data.
We know that the public, and in particular the press, will access the Open Payments database, and there will likely be a high level of misunderstanding and misinformation. One cannot forget the feeding frenzy that arose when CMS released physician Medicare billing data earlier this year. Any physician who receives payments from a manufacturer or GPO would presumably want advance notice of any disclosure regarding payments to that physician. Accordingly, any physician who does receive such payments should register on the Open Payments website and check the accuracy of all information reported about them, and be prepared to answer questions they may be asked.