Life Science Compliance Update

March 27, 2017

“Open” Payments Portal Not So Open

Last Friday, several of our readers emailed us last week to let us know that they were having difficulty with logging in and processing files in the CMS Open Payments Portal in preparation for the March 31st submission deadline. On Friday and today on Monday, several of our contacts had difficulty logging in, or were able to log in but unable to do much else, receiving the following error message:

OP

As of 12:30pm Eastern today Monday 3/27 the system is down again.While this is not the first time the Open Payments portal has been down, CMS has typically acknowledged the malfunction in prior times. This time, however, it does not seem that CMS acknowledged, or perhaps was even aware, of the technological glitch.

While this is not the first time the Open Payments portal has been down, CMS has typically acknowledged the malfunction in prior times. This time, however, it does not seem that CMS acknowledged, or perhaps was even aware, of the technological glitch.

Applicable Manufacturers also received a reminder email notice today that the deadline was still in place for this Friday, March 31st.

Add this most recent difficulty to the lengthy list of problems with Open Payments since its inception in 2014. Given its history, it is likely that Open Payments database will continue to cause a variety of problems as it continues to be widely used and participation mandated. It is only a matter of time before CMS acknowledges that it is not showing results as hoped and perhaps offers a deadline extension to the manufacturers who are unable enter in the data due to problems with the system.

 

February 06, 2017

Discussion on Open Payments by Philadelphia-Region Doctors

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An article in the Philadelphia Business Journal published in early January 2017 focused on Open Payments and payment information available to the public, and how the public availability of the data is affecting doctors and the way they treat patients.

According to the article, Dr. Stanley Schwartz is on a mission to change how physicians treat diabetic patients. The Ardmore endocrinologist, an advocate for reducing the use of insulin in diabetics in favor of other medicine regimens, placed 15th in a ranking of area physicians who received non-research payments from drug companies and medical-device makers.

"To me the Sunshine Act is, you'll excuse the expression, 'a necessary evil' that is meant to reassure people that I approach the care of my patients ethically as I go out and teach physicians across the region, across the country and across the world how to better take care of diabetes," Schwartz said. "It's a necessary evil because there is a worry money may alter my care. What I submit is maybe there are some doctors where that is true, but in my own mind I feel very comfortable telling you that for me, that's not true."

CMS, in its most recent Open Payments report, noted the total payments nationwide fell into three major categories: $2.6 billion for general non-research-related payments, which include speaking fees and food and travel; $3.89 billion for research payments; and $1.03 billion for royalties, licensing fees or ownership or investment interests held by physicians or their immediate family members.

Payments Made to Specialty Physicians

In the article, it was noted that thirteen of the twenty doctors who received the highest payments in the tri-state area were orthopedic surgeons who specialize in knee, shoulder, and spine specialties. Eight of those thirteen are part of the Philadelphia-based Rothman Institute.

Dr. Alexander Vacarro, president of the Rothman Institute, noted, "Rothman Institute is fully committed to the transparency mandated by the Sunshine Act. As national and international leaders in musculoskeletal science, several of our physicians receive compensation for their tireless dedication to basic science and clinical research in an effort to advance the field of orthopedics. Working in conjunction with industry brings this life-saving technology to not only the patients in the communities we serve, but also to people around the world. The physicians of Rothman Institute remain completely transparent in reporting income from these arrangements and will continue to do so."

According to Patricia Audet, chairwoman of the department of pharmaceutical and health care business at the University of Sciences in Philadelphia, "The issue of physician payments is important because it made people aware of payments made to potentially influence doctors. But it doesn't mean all payments are for influencing doctors."

A Doctor’s Perspective

Dr. Schwartz is a member of the speaker bureaus for several pharmaceutical companies, and he spends roughly one-third of his time teaching other doctors about the "disease state" of diabetes and two-thirds of his time discussing specific medicines that he uses as part of the treatment regimen he has developed to treat diabetics. "If there is a drug I don't believe in, I won't speak for it," he said. "I don't speak for everybody who asks. I speak for ones I believe fit into the construct of what I teach."

Schwartz notes that he "get[s] a rush" out of educating others. "When I see people's eyes light up it gives me a good feeling," he said. "The second pleasure I get is I am changing diabetes not just here, but all over the world. One month ago I spoke in Korea, next month I am speaking in Manila. I've been to China four times. … I think it's a responsibility for somebody like me to educate others, even if our process if being funded by pharmaceutical companies, because I am doing it in an ethical way. I can do it throughout the world and help millions of patients."

He makes no apologies for accepting payment from drug companies to instruct physicians. "Every time I speak to 200 doctors, each of those doctors may have 5,000 diabetic patients," he said. "I am affecting the care of [potentially] a million patients. Shouldn't I get reimbursed if I can do it ethically? I know I can do it ethically."

As an aside, with a quick visit to Dr. Schwartz’ website, one can tell he truly appreciates learning and sharing his knowledge with others. His website includes numerous publications, newsletters, and papers authored by the doctor.

Critics Discuss Flaws and Potential Fixes

One of the most vocal critics of the Sunshine Act and open payment database is the American Medical Association, which after the most recent data was released, issued a statement saying, "While we appreciate the efforts of CMS to verify the data submitted by industry, continued data errors and registration challenges during the previous two years have thwarted many physicians from participating in the review and validation process. The integrity goals of the Open Payments database will not be met as long as physician review is obstructed by a registration procedure that is confusing, time consuming, and overly burdensome."

Dr. Sharad Mansukani had one of the highest totals among physicians in the Philadelphia area, $5 million in payments. The payments were primarily dividends from Par Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Mansukani, however, seems to have appeared in the database in error. "I haven't practiced for well over 10 years," he said. "I work for the private equity firm that owned Par prior to its sale, and I was also on Par's board of directors at the time. My compensation had nothing to do with me being a physician. It was [the result] of my personal investment in the company and my role with the private equity firm and the board of directors."

Former University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan, now a professor of bioethics at New York University's Langone Medical Center, believes the Sunshine Act has had its desired effect - but he advised regulators to pay even closer attention to another vehicle drug companies are using, sometimes improperly, to promote their brands. He stated that the Sunshine Act has “discouraged some of the shenanigans” we used to see in previous decades, such as “cushy dinners and excursions to balmy locations." He noted that in today’s world, medication choices are dictated less by doctors and more by pharmaceutical benefit management firms with lists of preferred medicines for treating specific medical conditions.

December 06, 2016

Money in Medicine Report

Money-medicine

In late November, a report was released that focused on money in medicine, and the top thirty drugs that were associated with pharmaceutical industry payments to Oregon doctors. Interestingly, the top thirty list did not include many drugs that are known to be household names. For example, the top three drugs – Bydureon, Invokana, and Toujeo – are prescribed for diabetes, a highly prevalent disease in America. Three others on the list are prescribed for multiple sclerosis, a debilitating condition that is incurable and can be hard to live with. Hysingla, an abuse-deterrent hydrocodone pill, is also high on the list.

According to the series, $2.6 billion in non-research payments were made by drug and device developers to U.S. teaching hospitals and physicians in 2015. In Oregon, 100 doctors collected $9 million in payments from industry.

This is interesting, in part because the media is always harping on the pharmaceutical industry for spending money and having “influence” on physicians. However, this article and the data show that the drugs (at least in Oregon) that are most associated with pharmaceutical industry payments tend to be drugs for diseases that are highly prevalent or diseases that are hard to beat. The author of the series also gives much time and attention to the physicians themselves, who help her (and the public) understand the benefits.

Doctors who receive the payments state that they are “being compensated for their time and expertise, or in several cases, the technology they devised to advance patient care.” They also “argue that safeguards are in place to prevent undue influence from industry, such as a prohibition on receiving royalties from your own practice or even region.”

Dr. L. Nelson Hopkins, a neurosurgeon and president of the Gates Vascular Institute at Buffalo General Medical Center, believes it is important for physicians and industry to have a good relationship, “To say that physicians shouldn’t work with industry is to say that innovation shouldn’t happen. If physicians weren’t working with industry to develop concepts and to advise industry on how it’s going in the marketplace, and working with industry to iterate the product to get better and better, then that technology would be stymied.”

Gerald Williams, Jr., both a practicing physician and the president of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, notes that it makes sense that many of his group’s members account for a large portion of the non-research compensation because their practice areas account for almost 40 percent of the total health care spending in the United States. Williams states that many orthopedic surgeons fund their own product and equipment innovations, and that even more are asked by device makers to lend their expertise in developing new tools and approaches to delivering care.

Dr. Bryan Mehlhaff, a Springfield urologist who makes presentations about cutting-edge prostate cancer drugs, sums it up quite well, “this is very FDA regulated. A lot of my patients know I’m a speaker and that I participate on advisory boards and ask if I’ve heard anything new. A lot of them like that I’m on top of new developments and on the cutting edge of what might be possible for them.”

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