High-dollar omissions in new database of payments to doctors

A new federal database of payments made to doctors by the pharmaceutical and medical device industries excludes $1.1 billion worth of transactions.

And, ProPublica reports, that’s just deepening the holes in the ‘Open Payments’ database, which was released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services [CMS] on Sept. 30.

The database does show 4.4 million payments, totaling $3.5 billion, to doctors and teaching hospitals.

Some information is missing because the federal government took it out because it was inconsistent. The excluded $1 billion stems from disputed or confidential payments made between August and December 2013, according to the ProPublica story.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency overseeing the database, had said last week that it was not publishing any details on 9,000 payments that had been disputed by doctors or hospitals because those disputes hadn't been resolved. It also said it would withhold data on 190,000 research payments related to drugs and devices that are not yet on the market, as is mandated by law.

On a conference call with reporters, though, federal officials did not disclose that the unpublished data amounted to almost a quarter of the money drug and device makers dispensed in the final five months of last year.

The agency has been skewered for what it’s chosen to omit from the database and for not being user-friendly.

ProPublica reporter Charles Ornstein writes: If the federal government's new Open Payments website were a consumer product, it would be returned to the manufacturer for a full refund.

Further, the names of doctors and hospitals connected to nearly half of the disclosed payments were not released.

“The government … promised to disclose this information next year once it has been corrected and verified.”

CMS officials have also said they would put out tools to help people use the site.

Reach Halle Stockton at 412-315-0263 or hstockton@publicsource.org. Follow her on Twitter @HalleStockton.