Medicare's Open Payments System Is Down

August 08, 2014

Medicare's online Open Payments system is temporarily closed, preventing physicians from reviewing — and challenging — what drug and device makers have reported giving them in the way of cash and gifts.

The reason? The government said at least one manufacturer was discovered to be submitting erroneous data, the very thing organized medicine has feared.

Drug and device companies are required by the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, a provision of the Affordable Care Act, to tell the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) what they give clinicians. CMS, in turn, will post this data online for public inspection, beginning September 30. The goal is to expose possible conflicts of interest and deter physicians from accepting such largesse in the first place.

Physicians have until August 27 to review and dispute the payment data from industry from the last 5 months of 2013. However, the online investigative news site ProPublica reported on August 4 that CMS had disabled the portion of the Open Payments system where physicians access this data after it discovered that a manufacturer had turned in incorrect information. ProPublica described how a physician who was reviewing his data discovered that payments to another physician with the same name were credited to him.

Yesterday, CMS shut down the entire Open Payments system, which prevents physicians from registering with it as well as reviewing data. It announced that for every day the system is down, CMS will add 1 day to the period for physicians to review and dispute payment information beyond the August 27 deadline. The extension also applies to the following 15-day period for making corrections.

In an email to Medscape Medical News, a CMS spokesperson stated that the problem of incorrect payment data "is limited to a small number of physicians." The agency said that it would work with the responsible companies "to correct the root data."

The CMS spokesperson declined to say whether the temporary system shutdown would delay the public release of payment data scheduled for September 30.

On July 30, the American Medical Association (AMA) and more than 100 other specialty and state medical societies sent a letter to CMS asking it to postpone this data dump until March 31, 2015.

The AMA said in a news release that implementation of the Physician Payments Sunshine Act "is suffering from a major lack of communication, a shortened timeline, and a confusing registration process." Delaying the public release of payment information would give CMS and physicians more time to make sure it's accurate, the AMA and the other medical societies told the government.

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