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Photo: Medical device.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

A long-awaited consumer protection law

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD
  • Star Tribune
  • February 17, 2013 - 4:53 PM

A groundbreaking consumer-protection law whose rollout has been delayed repeatedly by the Obama administration is finally becoming a reality.

Three years ago, as part of the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Congress passed the Physician Payment Sunshine Act. This important legislation requires public disclosure of the large sums sometimes paid to providers by drugmakers and device manufacturers -- such as those deals in which doctors research a new drug or device.

It's critical that these arrangements continue, because they help fuel medical innovation. But patients should also have information about these ties so that they can decide for themselves if that money has influenced their physician's decision on medications or medical devices.

Since the law's passage, consumer advocates have grown increasingly frustrated as a federal agency blew past deadlines to turn the law's language into practical compliance guidelines. Minnesota, as a medical device epicenter, also had an economic stake in the law's smooth debut. The industry, which supported the law, needed time to prepare to collect and report the payment information.

The final version of the long-awaited guidance finally arrived this month -- though without an explanation for the delay.

The Sunshine Act's final rule merited a solid review from experts such as Allan Coukell, medical programs director for the Pew Charitable Trusts. The rule was a "thorough and thoughtful approach to rolling out this law,'' Coukell said, though he added that the regulations could have gone further by requiring reporting of payments to medical residents.

Device and drug manufacturers will start collecting data in August, meaning some 2013 payment information will be reported. That information is slated to be made public via a searchable database in fall 2014, although the website has yet to be built. Federal officials shouldn't delay the database's debut after dragging their feet on so many other milestones in this law's rollout.

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An editorial of the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

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