Storms Brew Following Roll-Out of Sunshine Act Open Payments Data

On the same day as the first release of open payments data system under the Physician Payments Sunshine Act (Sunshine Act), the American Medical Association (AMA) released a statement questioning the accuracy of the data. Moreover, other sources have noted particular inaccuracies among the data released during the first roll-out.


On September 30, 2014, CMS released the first round of data made available under the Sunshine Act (see Let the sunshine in: Open Payments data released, September 30, 2014). CMS reported that release “lists consulting fees, research grants, travel reimbursements, and other gifts the health care industry—such as medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies—provided to physicians and teaching hospitals during the last five months of 2013.” Yet, prior to this release the AMA released a survey and report that expressed concerns over the accuracy of the information and found that the open payments site was not user friendly (see AMA asks: Why is Open Payments site closed?, September 3, 2014). When CMS announced the roll-out, it explained that in cases where CMS was unable to “match the physician information or the record was not available for review and dispute but the company had attested that the payment had been made,” CMS temporarily suppressed the information for now. Moreover, CMS noted that approximately 40 percent of the records published during the first roll-out were “de-identified” and would be fully identifiable in 2015 after the reporting entity submits correct information.

AMA Reaction

On the same day as the roll-out, the AMA released another statement regarding the data made available by the Open Payments system. Specifically, the AMA stated, “while we appreciate the efforts of [CMS] to verify the identification of physicians in each report from industry and to de-identify reports where there were discrepancies, we remain very concerned about the accuracy of the data released today.” The AMA explained that the inaccuracies apparent within the released data were a product of a short period of time allotted to reviewing and correcting inaccurate data. It also noted that the CMS Open Payment website was “plagued by repeated shut-downs and other issues.”

Identified Errors

A New York Times article released September 30, 2014, directly following the release of the Open Payments data and the subsequent AMA statement, also focused on some of the same issues that the AMA statement contemplated. Besides noting that the data was incomplete, the Times article specifically outlined a case in which the data that was released yesterday was incorrect. “When the website went live, one large payment to a doctor, a Boston neurologist, turned out to be an error,” the Times said.