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Going after conflicts of interest


Here’s a review of efforts to address the huge financial conflicts of interests that some physicians with investments in medical-device and pharmaceutical companies have when they prescribe their use for their patients.

Happily, a new federal database is starting to make these conflicts more visible to patients, regulators and even law-enforcement agencies. The federal Anti-Kickback Statute generally outlaws payments that reward someone to refer patients for treatments under government insurance programs.

The new Open Payments data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) cover many types of financial relationships besides investments, such as consulting deals, free travel for conferences and straight gifts. The disclosure program was created as part of the Affordable Care Act to show hidden financial relationships in medicine  as healthcare costs surge.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune (which has some of the best healthcare coverage of any newspaper in America) reports that U.S. physicians had “investments worth more than $1 billion in device companies and drugmakers at the end of 2013, not including holdings in mutual funds and retirement accounts, which didn’t have to be reported because their impact is considered negligible.”

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