Monday, August 4, 2014

The Sunshine Act and Open Payments

Today was a busy day for news about the Sunshine Act and Open Payments. I was asked to present pertinent information about the Sunshine Act to some of the leadership of the medical school where I work, the Indiana University School of Medicine, about this topic.  Essentially, the Physician Payment Sunshine Act (PPSA, shortened to “Sunshine Act”) came out of the Affordable Care Act, and requires that manufacturers of drugs and medical devices (which I'll call “industry”) collect, track and report all payments and financial relationships with physicians and teaching hospitals.  This system was designed to establish a transparent national disclosure system.

As a result, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, was tasked with creating a website that provided information about these relationships so that the public can make informed decisions.  That website is known as “Open Payments”.   

As of the time of this writing, for approximately the next three weeks, the “Dispute” period  is still open, whereby individual physicians can register on the website, and review their own data.  If one feels there is a discrepancy, then s/he can file a dispute that industry companies will need to review, and ultimately reconcile.
For my presentation today, I carefully made detailed slides for the leadership to share with the faculty.  I decided today to add in some screen shots of what the report looks like to an individual doctor.  To my dismay, this was the screen I found.

Intrigued with the word "portlet", I sent a request to the CMS Help Desk.  I was pleased with the response time of just a few hours.  This was the response:

[The] portal is down for maintenance at this time.  There is no ETA at this point, but we are working to get this resolved as soon as possible.  We apologize for any inconvenience and Thank you for your understanding.
For further questions please feel free to contact the open payments help desk at 1-855-326-8366.  We are open Monday - Friday from 7:30 am to 6:30 pm CST, excluding Federal holidays.

Thank you,

Open Payments

I wondered what the issue could be.  It turns out that earlier today, this piece was posted by ProPublica.  
How timely! 

I really do hope for two big fixes.  First, that examples like this one here (which generated the ProPublica story) are rare.  The registration to gain access to one’s Open Payments information is complex and cumbersome (the User Guide is unfortunately not much simpler, at 359 pages in length), which one might assume means that CMS is really trying to make sure that someone who logs in is indeed who s/he said s/he is.  Second, that the website can be opened back up very soon. Time is slowly ticking away in the Dispute period.

I am all for transparency, but if a system is going to be put in place to “provide the public with information to make informed decisions”, the information in that system needs to be a) relatively easy to access, and b) correct first and foremost.  It would make sense to me that at the least, industry use the NPI numbers (each physician is assigned a unique number for ONLY that physician and no one else) to insure that physicians with similar names are not mixed up.

-For information about the Sunshine Act and the Open Payments process, see this from the AAMC. 
 -For a step-by-step process about how to register, review, and potentially dispute one’s data, see this from Stanford, along with this FAQ.
 -For a very recent survey of industry and of physicians (85% of whom stated they would like to review their own data BEFORE its submitted to CMS; 7% actually have reviewed their data, however), see this.

By the way, the presentation went fine.  Faculty leaders had great questions.  The take home discussion from many who have already gone through the process: allot two hours for the entire process of registering, waiting for clearance, and potentially for disputing any data that one feels is incorrect.

Fellow doctors, please take the time to review the process and your own data.  After all, we are curious about the details.


  1. Alex, thanks for your post. I found my way here via a Google search because I, too, have received only the "portlet is unavailable" message every time I've tried to log on. Still happening for you?

  2. Yes, it still shows the same "unavailable" message now, at 7 pm EST on 8/12/14.