U.S. Agency Reveals Drug Makers' Payments to Doctors

By:  Peter Loftus

Drug and medical-device companies paid at least $3.5 billion to U.S. physicians during the final five months of last year, according to the most comprehensive accounting so far of the financial ties that some critics say have compromised medical care.

The figures come from a new federal government transparency initiative. The 2010 Affordable Care Act included a provision dubbed the Sunshine Act, which requires manufacturers of drugs and medical devices to disclose the payments they make to physicians and teaching hospitals each year for services such as consulting or research. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services compiled the records into a database posted online Tuesday, though the agency said that about 40% of the payment information won't identify the recipients because of data problems.

The push for greater transparency was driven by concerns that doctors' prescribing decisions are tainted by the hundreds of millions of dollars that the physicians collectively receive each year from companies. Supporters expect the transparency initiative to provide useful information to patients about the relationships their doctors have with industry and to curb the influence of payments on medical care.

"The financial relationships between doctors and drug companies and medical-device companies are a source of conflicts of interest," said Allan Coukell, director of the Pew Prescription Project, which has supported the Sunshine Act. "They have the potential to influence the care that patients get and so they're a matter of interest both to individual consumers and to policy makers."

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