Sunshine Act in today's pharma forecast as mandate takes effect

The earnings picture may be cloudy today in the drug business, but sun is shining in from another quarter. Today is the first day of data-gathering for the newly implemented Physician Payments Sunshine Act.

So, pharma companies will be recording payments to doctors--speaking fees, consulting arrangements, free food and whatnot--if they haven't been already. Next May, drugmakers will have to hand over the information to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which will put together a public database and post it online next September.

The mandate has been a long time coming. Politicians and activists pushed for disclosures for years after a series of scandals linking pharma-paid physicians with unethical behavior. Meanwhile, some drugmakers started posting the payments online, some because they were forced to do so by Justice Department marketing settlements.

Thanks to those disclosures, we know that participating drugmakers paid doctors more than $1 billion last year. That's for the 12 leading companies that actually disclose the data right now.

Advocates have argued that the public--and patients in particular--need to know when doctors are getting paid by manufacturers and so are potentially influenced to push their products. In surveys, doctors say they're not influenced by relationships with pharma. Drugmakers also say they don't pick speakers based on their prescribing habits. The companies say they're simply educating doctors--and using physicians to educate other doctors--about new drugs.

CMS figures complying with the law will cost $269 million for the first year, with $180 million in cost each year after that, Healthcare Finance News reports. Drugmakers will foot the bill for $194 million in upfront and infrastructure costs this first year.

- see the Healthcare Finance News story