Sunshine Act Deadline Pushed Back

After nearly two weeks of technical problems and a host of physician and industry complaints, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has reopened its Sunshine Act portal (also known as the “Open Payments” system), where physicians can review data about their financial interactions with medical device and drug manufacturers. The agency has extended the deadline only until Sept. 8 for physicians to dispute their data and have it flagged as such before the information goes public.

Meanwhile, about one-third of the data reportedly has errors that CMS already has identified, and the agency said it would withhold this data from the initial public data release. Because there are outstanding concerns about the data’s accuracy, it is critical that physicians review their reports and seek any necessary corrections. CMS has said the Sept. 30 public release date remains firm.

The AMA and 112 specialty and state medical societies earlier this month urged CMS to postpone the release of physician financial data for six months, to March 31. The groups also called attention to the agency’s lack of communication surrounding the review and dispute process, which is confusing and time-consuming even when it is working properly. The groups also pointed to the short timeline for physicians—a mere 45 days to complete CMS’ convoluted registration process, review their data and submit any disputes.

CMS took the Open Payments system offline Aug. 3 “to resolve a technical issue,” according to a press release issued Aug. 15, which said the agency took “action after a physician reported a problem.” The agency reports that some manufacturers and group purchasing organizations erroneously submitted intermingled data, such as the wrong state license number or National Provider Identifier, for physicians with the same first and last names.

The agency extended the time for physicians to review their records to Sept. 8 to account for the 13 days the site was unavailable but didn’t change the date that records would be made available to the public. This compressed timeframe has raised concerns that the public data will be inaccurate.

“Reports that one-third of the data is not accurate and will be held back confirm our concerns about the data’s integrity and underscore the need for all parties involved to have more time to ensure accuracy and value,” said AMA President Robert M. Wah, MD, in a statement.

“The publication of inaccurate data can potentially harm the physician-patient relationship, which is why the AMA maintains its call for a six month delay of the data release in order to give CMS, pharmaceutical and device manufacturers, and group purchasing organizations more time to ensure information housed in the database is accurate,” Dr. Wah said. “Physicians [need] enough time to review and correct any wrong information before it is published.”

Although physicians can dispute their data until Dec. 31, it will not be marked as disputed in the public database.

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