Sunshine Act’s solar eclipse

If you haven’t heard, the federal government temporarily shut down the Open Payment System after physicians discovered data mix-ups. It is another blow to the credibility of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) websites.

Writing in a blog, retired electrophysiologist David Mann, MD, described his experience first trying to gain access to the portion of the Sunshine Act website that allows physicians to review data submitted by industry about gifts and payments. The program was designed as a public service that would let patients see if and how much their physicians receive in monetary rewards from industries such as drug and device companies.

If physicians go through what has been described as an ornery and maybe even borderline Orwellian process, they could review the data for accuracy. Physicians have to register before Aug. 27 to scrutinize and challenge submissions, which CMS will make public Sept. 30.

At least, that was the target unveiling date. ProPublica was the first to report that CMS pulled the plug on the program temporarily "to correct the issue."

Accuracy of data was a bug-a-boo in another CMS endeavor, the Medicare Provider Utilization and Payment database. In April, CMS made data available through its website on approximately 880,000 physicians and other providers who received Medicare reimbursement in 2012. 

CMS said the purpose of the program was to inform the public. Physicians and medical societies wanted the ability to review the data before public release to ensure accuracy. They also raised concerns that without context and explanations, the public would not know how to interpret what they see.

Delving into his Sunshine data, Mann encountered names of drug companies he had no association with. It turns out that data from another David Mann, MD, had been entered under his name. The other D.M., MD, had a different middle name, lived in a different state and used a different NPI number. But that didn’t prevent the error.

This does not instill confidence in the system.

The impetus—protecting patients by making them informed—seems good, although there is a whiff of political chest-thumping in both the Sunshine and Medicare payment initiatives. The question is whether there is enough time to fix these glitches before Sunshine’s scheduled rollout.

We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, feel free to share your experiences, sunny or gloomy, with the Sunshine Act by emailing the address below.

Candace Stuart

Cardiovascular Business, editor