Sunshine Act data is now due, but some provisions remain murky

Since last August, when the Physician Payments Sunshine Act went into effect, drugmakers and devicemakers have been logging everything they've paid out to doctors. Now, it's finally time to report all those numbers to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

As of Tuesday, the so-called Phase 1 of info collection has begun, and manufacturers and group purchasing organizations now have through the end of March to register and submit their 2013 payment data and their corporate profile information. During the second phase, companies will submit more detailed data and vouch for its accuracy.

While the process may sound as if it's broken down into simple steps, the provision, a piece of the Affordable Care Act meant to improve transparency and nip conflict-of-interest scenarios, has caused its fair share of confusion. For one, pharma companies' opinions differ when it comes to which payments are subject to the new law. As PMLiVE reports, Pfizer ($PFE) and AstraZeneca ($AZN) count medical writing support as a reportable "transfer of value," while Shire ($SHPG) has a different interpretation.

Problems like that one are just the latest trip-ups in what has been a long journey for doctor payment disclosure legislation in the U.S. Politicians and activists have been pushing for oversight for years after a series of scandals tied pharma-paid docs to unethical behavior. Some drugmakers, as part of Department of Justice marketing settlements, have been posting payments online for awhile now, and those disclosures alone tell us that that drugmakers paid doctors more than $1 billion in 2012.

Doctors have said they're not influenced by pharma companies, and drugmakers have denied picking speakers based on their prescribing habits. Instead, they chalk it all up to doctor education, informing doctors about new drugs so they can inform their peers.

But none of that matters now, as far as CMS is concerned. With things finally in motion, the agency is eyeing a 7-month timeline for publishing the payments; Phase 2 is set to wrap by Aug. 1, with the information going live in September.

- see the PMLiVE piece
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