AMA calls on CMS to delay publication of the Sunshine Act database

Aug. 18, 2014

The American Medical Association (AMA) is calling on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to expand the timeframe for registering and using the Open Payments system to allow physicians adequate time to review and seek correction of inaccurate claims made by pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers, and group purchasing organizations under the Sunshine Act. The call comes amidst continued poor functionality of the government website and poor communication to physicians and the public, which has led to widespread confusion among physicians and hindered education efforts about the program.

CMS reports that it has reopened the Open Payments database as of today, but indicates it will only allow physicians until September 8th to complete registration and seek correction of data. Yet, the agency has not fixed the major problems that continue to mark the roll-out of this database including confusing and inaccurate information, lack of reliable functionality, and excessive time required to register and review reports. This inadequate response will lead to inaccurate publication of data.

While the AMA believes that transparency can strengthen our health care system and benefits both physicians and patients, if the government releases incorrect information to the public it can create misinterpretation and misrepresentation and inhibit the delivery of quality care to patients.

“In order for the Sunshine Act to be effective, physicians need enough time to review and correct any inaccurate data that may be reported,” said AMA President Robert M. Wah, MD. “The issues that resulted in the system being taken offline further underscore the need for more time than CMS proposes to ensure the system is actually ready and that physicians have adequate time to register, review, and seek correction of inaccurate data. The lack of faith physicians have in the system at this point in time, is making them wonder if taking time away from patients to go through the process is even worthwhile.”

CMS created widespread confusion by taking the Open Payments database offline without notice to physicians or physician organizations and without any indication of when the database would be available again. According to media reports, the Open Payments system was taken offline the evening of August 3rd due to significant technological problems. CMS inadequately communicated about website failures, not releasing a public statement about the system being offline until August 7th and not providing any indication of when the database would be available again, causing confusion among physicians.

Physicians were already given a short window to go through the cumbersome process of registering for the Open Payment System (which required a more than 360 page guidebook), reviewing information reported about them, and disputing any inaccurate data before publication in September. In order to get proper participation in the program to ensure all data reported is fair and accurate, AMA is asking CMS to expand the timeframe for registration and data correction until March 31, 2015.

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. Physicians deserve adequate amount of time to ensure the information being reported is accurate.

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