Speed Reads

Numbers don't lie

Thanks to ObamaCare, you can now see how much money your doctor gets from drugmakers

Earlier this week, with little fanfare, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a public database of information about how much money and in-kind benefits doctors have been receiving from pharmaceutical and medical device makers. Only gifts of $10 or more are counted.

The Open Payments database — a requirement of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare — is incomplete, with data from only the last five months of 2013 so far. But the numbers aren't small: From August to December, 546,000 Doctors, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, and chiropractors plus 1,360 teaching hospitals received more than $3.48 billion in cash, gifts and in-kind services, stock options, and research grants from drugmakers and device makers. HHS is still verifying 300,000 records it didn't include in the database, so the total amount will rise. The biggest spenders so far are Genetech, Pfizer, and DePuy Synthes.

The idea is that, once the database is fully functional, patients and other interested parties will be able to see a doctor's financial ties to companies, so they can evaluate a doctor's treatments and — more importantly — to discourage conflicts of interest. The American Medical Association opposes the database, arguing that the numbers are out of context and potentially misleading, but this part of ObamaCare has bipartisan support.

After a day or so of digging through the numbers, The New York Times has some of the biggest recipients — the typical doctor received $1,750 in those five months, but at least 130 named doctors pulled in more than $100,000 — and some of the largest potential conflicts of interest. If you're interested in a broader look at where the pharmaceutical/device money comes from and goes to, ProPublica has been tracking the cash for four years.