Pharma and physicians slam Sunshine Act for glitches, hassles and cloudy guidelines

The Physician Payment Sunshine Act isn't so aptly named, some drugmakers figure. The government act that requires pharma companies to report payments to doctors has left some critics feeling anything but cheerful--and now, some physician groups, along with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), are slamming it, demanding some changes in the act's implementation.

In a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, these docs and PhRMA went back to the reason they never liked the law, passed back in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act, in the first place. Pharma companies are up in arms about it because they have to collect info and report it to the government, opening the door on their doc-payment practices. And what about physicians? They have to check the payments listed for them before the list goes live, and that's a hassle, they wrote in the letter.

"Many physicians are still not aware that they must take action in order to review the data that will be reported about them," the letter said. "For those physicians who do attempt to register, many have faced error messages and other glitches, likely due in part to the compressed timeline faced by all stakeholders."

And just how cumbersome are those glitches? According to an article in Medpage Today, the Open Payments website is a mess. It's not only wracked with error messages, but, as reported in the article, doctors have complained that it takes at least an hour to go through a simple log-in and verification process.

Then there's the issue of what a gift from a pharma company to a doc actually constitutes. Could it be a grant--and does the government think a doctor needs to explain receiving money that doesn't go to his or her personal benefit? Dr. Robert Harbaugh, president of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, asked CMS to define the issue better, writing: "It will be extremely important to provide context for use of the funds that are listed, or the data may be badly misinterpreted."

The physician groups' timing certainly doesn't hurt PhRMA's cause; having the doctors sign on now should be a boost to the trade group's lobbying effort. And the next deadline for payment schedules is coming right up on Sept. 30, which covers the period of Aug. to Dec. 2013. But the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, for all its alleged hassles on docs on pharma groups, has already produced some of the information for which it was intended. Thanks to disclosures so far, we know that participating drugmakers paid doctors more than $1 billion in 2012.

- here's the letter to CMS
- get more from Medpage Today
- and here's Medical Marketing & Media's take