Physician Open Payment Website Back Online, CMS Says

August 15, 2014 in News

On Thursday, CMS announced that its physician payment website is back online, about 11 days after it was taken down to investigate a reported data issue, the Wall Street Journal‘s “Pharmalot” reports (Loftus, “Pharmalot,” Wall Street Journal, 8/14).

Background

In February 2013, CMS released a long-awaited final rule on the Physician Payment Sunshine Act — also known as the OPEN PAYMENTS system — and outlined a timeline for its implementation.

The Sunshine Act requires medical industry companies to disclose consulting fees, travel reimbursements, research grants and other gifts that they give to physicians and teaching hospitals.

As of August 2013, manufacturers of pharmaceutical and biological drugs, medical devices and medical supplies have been required to report all transfers of monetary value over $10 to physicians and teaching hospitals.

All data collected from August 2013 through December 2013 had to be reported to CMS by March 31, 2014, according to the final rule. The final rule also called for physicians to be given a 45-day “review and correction” period to ensure the accuracy of any disclosures to CMS.

The federal government had planned to publicly release the online database of payments in September in an effort to promote transparency.

However, the database has come under criticism after findings from a ProPublica investigation and other media reports discovered mistakes in the information that could undermine a health care providers’ professional reputation, such as incorrectly listing drugmaker payments.

Last week, the American Medical Association and more than 100 other medical professional groups sent a letter to CMS asking the agency to delay the website’s launch (iHealthBeat, 8/8).

On Aug. 3, CMS took the database offline to investigate a reported data accuracy issue.

CMS spokesman Aaron Albright in an email to ProPublica said, “To protect physician privacy and correct the issue, we have taken the system offline temporarily and will work with the industry to eliminate incorrect payment records” (iHealthBeat, 8/5).

A few days later, CMS said it would delay the public launch of its physician payment website for an unspecified amount of time in order to investigate a reported issue with the site (iHealthBeat, 8/8).

CMS Announcement

CMS said OPS is available again for physicians and teaching hospitals to review and contest payment data before the system goes public. When the site was taken down, providers were in the midst of the 45-day review period, which had been scheduled to end Aug. 27 (“Pharmalot,” Wall Street Journal, 8/14).

In a release, CMS said an investigation into a physician complaint revealed that “manufacturers and group purchasing organizations submitted intermingled data, such as the wrong state license number or national provider identifier, for physicians with the same last and first names. This erroneously linked physician data in the Open Payments system.”

CMS said it has resolved the issue and removed incorrect payment transactions from the website. It noted that all data in the system have been revalidated to verify that the physician identifiers are accurate and that payments are attributed to just one provider (CMS release, 8/15).

According to Modern Healthcare, CMS has said it would extend the review period by one day for every day the site was down (Tahir, Modern Healthcare 8/14). According to the CMS release, the agency will extend until Sept. 8 the deadline for physicians and teaching hospitals to review their records to account for the time the system was offline. CMS said the data should still be available for public release by Sept. 30 (CMS release, 8/15).

Response

In response to CMS’ announcement, AMA renewed calls for the agency to delay the public launch of the physician payment website.

In addition, AMA asked CMS to extend the deadline for providers to register and review the posted data, arguing that CMS has yet to address some of the website’s major issues, such as:

  • Confusing and inaccurate data;
  • Lengthy timeframe to register and review data; and
  • Unreliable functionality.

The association said, “While the AMA supports the Sunshine Act, it cannot support the publication of inaccurate data. Wrong information reduces patient trust, which unnecessarily damages patient-physician relationships.” It added, “Physicians deserve adequate amount of time to ensure the information being reported is accurate” (AMA release, 8/15).

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