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Obamacare’s “Open Payments” A Victory for Patients

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant" - Justice Louis Brandeis

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant” – Justice Louis Brandeis

Information is the cornerstone to modern, 21st century society. Transparency and information gives citizens and consumers the power to make informed decisions on who to vote for or which products to consume. Backroom deals, nepotism and corruption operate in the shade of misinformation, disinformation, and unknowable and incomprehensible processes and institutions which only serve to obscure truth and disempower citizens.

A new program was launched yesterday by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) which was mandated and funded through President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (colloquially known as Obamacare).

The program is called “Open Payments” and aims to unmask financial relationships between the pharmaceutical and medical device industry and doctors and hospitals.

You might ask why this information is so important, or why government should have a role in forcing these financial relationships from the shade into the sunshine. Between August 2013 and December 2013 (a mere 5 months) a total of $3.5.8 billion dollars was spent on 546,000 physicians and nearly 1,360 teaching hospitals. Digest that for a few minutes – there are countries on this planet with GDPs smaller than $3.5.8 billion dollars. So, in a five month period, the combination of the economies of Belize and Bhutan was spent on persuading doctors and teaching hospitals in America to use certain drugs and medical devices. Government (and more importantly, you!) has a right to know where that money is going – especially when your taxes are paying for the fruit of the financial relationship.

Bag of moneyMoney has the power to influence. Doctors have authority and expertise in their practice areas – what they say in the privacy of their office is generally taken by a patient as fact or truth. In the words of Michel Foucault, “Knowledge linked to power, not only assumes the authority of ‘the truth’ but has power to make itself true.” When a doctor recommends a new drug or medical device to a patient, his or her authority and expertise will generally dictate the actions of the powerless and unknowing patient. By giving consumers knowledge and information, you give them a modicum of power against the faceless and often oppressive regime of modern medicine.

People who pay for drugs and medical devices deserve to know why a particular doctor is recommending one drug or device over another. Is it because the doctor received an all-expense paid vacation to a medical conference in Ireland, or is it because they genuinely believe in the peer-reviewed clinical results of a particular drug or device? Though there is no way to read the mind of a doctor, there is now a simpler way to rule out the influence of money in their decision-making processes. That’s a good thing.

Of course, there are glitches in this new reporting system. The database is not easy to search. Big Pharma uses various subsidiaries to make payments to doctors and hospitals, which can effectively obfuscate the source of payments. CMS has also refused to release nearly a third of the payment data because of how inconsistent and poorly reported it was. Luckily, the existence of this database is mandated by statute, and will hopefully increase in accuracy and utility to the ordinary consumer as well as government-run health insurers like Medicare and Medicaid. It’s a first step toward eliminating the corrupting influence of money in medicine, and it’s a welcome one.

Take a look at the data yourself. We’ve customized the view for you – although it might be a little hard to search through, we’ve done our best to whittle the dataset down. Just click the search icon and find your own doctor. You might be surprised.

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