Where’s Drug Money Going? To the Doctors

ProPublica databaseProPublica has an interesting tool which provides statistics on which doctors are receiving money from drug companies. The tool, called Dollars for Docs, has been around for a few years. Federal law now requires that pharmaceutical and medical device companies release details of their payments to doctors within the U.S. for promotional talks, research, consulting, and other reasons.

The law is known as the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, a part of the Affordable Care Act. It is intended to increase transparency of financial relationships between health care providers and pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers. It only encompasses the drugs, medical devices and supplies covered by the federal health care programs (Medicare, Medicaid, and State Children’s Health Insurance Program).

Dollars for Docs Database

The Dollars for Docs database put together by ProPublica includes “general payments” made to doctors. These payments include 15 categories including promotional speaking, consulting, meals, travel, and royalties. It does not include research payments nor a doctor’s ownership stake in pharmaceutical companies.

The doctors included in the database include medical doctors, dentists, osteopaths (DO), optometrists, podiatrists, and chiropractors. ProPublica takes the payment reports released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to compile the database.

On the website you can search your own doctor to see if he or she has received money from a drug manufacturer. The site also lists the highest-earning doctors, doctors paid the most often, the top 50 companies, and payments made in each state as of July 2015. The top 5 states where doctors have received the most payments are:

  1. California with $806M
  2. New York with $312M
  3. Texas with $243M
  4. Florida with $188M
  5. Massachusetts with $170M

The top 5 companies to provide these payments are:

  1. Genentech, Inc. with $388M
  2. DePuy Synthese Products LLC with $94.7M
  3. Topera, Inc. with $93.1M
  4. AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP with $90.9M
  5. Stryker Corporation with $90.8M

The top 5 highest earning doctors received payments between $22 million – 44 million. If these numbers seem crazy, that’s because they are.

In addition to realizing these high payments to doctors, I think of the dangerous medical devices and bad drugs on the market, and I become wary of this industry. Pharmaceutical companies can push their drugs and devices on health care providers, who we trust to guide us into the proper treatment. Yet, some drugs and devices are overlooked, put on the market, and end up hurting, and in the worst cases killing, consumers.

Please be mindful of this industry, and of course always discuss your health concerns with your physician. Regardless of where the money is truly going, your health care provider is there to attend to your health needs; the pharmaceutical companies on the other hand, often are not.

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