Don’t blame us, blame the Office of Management and Budget, officials at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services told Senators Charles Grassley (R-Ia.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) last week. The senators had inquired why CMS missed the deadline for publishing a rule outlining how drug companies should comply with the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which is supposed to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2013. Companies are supposed to begin collecting data on their payments to physicians starting Jan. 1, 2012, with public dissemination a year later. But without final rules, many small companies will hang back, the two senators alleged in a letter sent to CMS yesterday, two days after the deadline for publishing the rule.
OMB needs to get the proposed rule out the door, and it needs to be closely scrutinized. The structure of the public database will largely determine the usefulness of this data. While many large companies are already disclosing their payments, they use different formats and the data is generally not searchable. If these company filings are simply dumped onto the web, it will become an onerous task for patients, consumer advocacy groups, researchers or anyone else to go through every filing looking for specific disclosures about individual physicians.
The rule must be quite specific as to the structure of the database, and require every company filing conform to its data requirements. The law was not intended to build a forest in which it becomes impossible to spot individual trees.
The author, Merrill Goozner, is an award-winning journalist and author of ’The $800 Million Pill: The Truth Behind the Cost of New Drugs’ who writes regularly at Gooznews.com.