It’s lights out again (and again) for Sunshine

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The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will shut down the Open Payments website twice again “for maintenance.” The latest setback prompted the American Medical Association (AMA) to call for a six-month delay in the program launch.

CMS announced that it will make the system unavailable between 11:30 p.m. ET Aug. 29 and 10 p.m. ET Aug. 30 and again between 9 p.m. ET Sept. 5 and 3 p.m. ET Sept. 7. The portal allows pharmaceutical, device and biologicals companies to submit data about payments to physicians; physicians who register are then supposed to be able to review the data.

The Open Payment system falls under the Sunshine Act, which is designed to add transparency to financial interactions between physicians and industry. CMS scheduled a launch date of Sept. 30 for public access to gifts and payments from pharmaceutical, device and biologicals companies to doctors. After an initial shutdown on Aug. 3, CMS extended the date for physicians and teaching hospitals to review the data to Sept. 8.

The window for reviewing data is expected to be pushed back again but not the launch date. CMS also has decided to withhold a portion of the reports until later in 2015.

The initial shutdown occurred after retired electrophysiologist David E. Mann. MD, described in a blog the difficulties of registering to review his data, only to discover once he succeeded that submissions under his name applied to another physician with the same first and last name. CMS cited industry for the problem.

“A full investigation into a physician complaint found that manufacturers and group purchasing organizations (GPOs) submitted intermingled data, such as the wrong state license number or national provider identifier (NPI), for physicians with the same last and first names,” CMS claimed. “This erroneously linked physician data in the Open Payments system.”

CMS said on Aug. 15 that it fixed the issue and revalidated data. But physicians continue to report problems. Edward J. Schloss, MD, an electrophysiologist, tweeted on Aug. 15 that “after CMS reboot of Sunshine data from 3 out of 4 industries disappeared from my report.”

A survey by the AMA showed that 44 percent of respondents failed to successfully register on the website when they tried and 83 percent considered the site user-unfriendly. On Aug. 28, the AMA recommended giving physicians an addition six months to register and review their data.

"Making the website unavailable to physicians, once again, impedes physician participation in the program and thus the integrity of the data," Robert M. Wah, MD, AMA president, said in a release.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) also challenged CMS about its decision to remove data.

“An analysis of the data that CMS removed from the database found that PhRMA member companies submitted their data in a manner consistent with the reporting rules outlined by the agency,” the association wrote in an Aug. 26 statement. “To reconcile the existing data issues, additional guidance from CMS is needed clarifying the reporting regulations. We also ask CMS provide additional transparency around the decision to remove one-third of the data from the site.”