• 2010 U.S. law requires disclosure of physicial payments
  • Doctors received payments for education, meals and more

U.S. doctors and teaching hospitals got $6.49 billion in research and speaking fees, food and other goods or services from drug, biotechnology and medical-device companies in 2015, according to an annual report by the government.

The data released Thursday represent the second full year of disclosures from the industry, describing financial links with clinicians who prescribe and use their products. The amount paid by manufacturers is on par with 2014, when they made $6.43 billion in payments.

The total includes fees such as those provided to medical experts for speaking at industry dinners as well as royalties paid to hospitals whose researchers have invented or helped develop drugs and devices. It also includes food, gifts, hotel rooms, services or entertainment.

The 2015 disclosures cover payments to about 618,000 doctors and 1,110 teaching hospitals. Overall, companies made $3.89 billion in payments for research and $2.6 billion for other purposes, according to a summary posted on the website. 

In addition, the government reported that physicians had ownership interests in companies worth $1.03 billion.

Obamacare Requirement

The Open Payments disclosures were created by 2010’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Under a separate initiative, the government has also started releasing more information about the Medicare program’s payments to health-care providers.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association based on Open Payments data found that doctors who received industry-sponsored meals, most costing less than $20, were more likely to prescribe brand-name pills made by the company paying for the food. The study authors cautioned that the association did not necessarily mean there was a cause-and-effect relationship.

The drug industry’s Washington-based trade group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, supports the transparency goals of the law, which created the Open Payments database, Holly Campbell, a spokeswoman for PhRMA, said before the 2015 data was released. She criticized the JAMA study of meals and prescriptions as distorted.

Collaboration between companies and physicians helps foster medical advances, according to Matt Wetzel, assistant general counsel at the Advanced Medical Technology Association, an industry group for device makers.

“The main purpose here is to shed sunlight on these interactions,” Wetzel said in a telephone interview. “The patients and public can make their own decisions about what is or is not a relationship that’s close or too close.”

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