The Sunshine Act data’s been out in the open for a couple of days now (well–most of it), and despite the database’s clunkiness, the number crunching is well underway. The Wall Street Journal, for one, has broken down which pharma companies topped the doc-paying list in a variety of different spending categories.
The overall highest roller? Genentech, which doled out $122.5 million of the $302.5 million the industry as a whole spent on royalties and licenses between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31 of last year. Forest Labs took the cake on promotional speakers, throwing down $12.5 million in fees to physicians. Otsuka America forked over $9.5 million to docs in consulting fees, while Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen plowed $4.2 million into wining and dining.
But as the WSJ points out, those totals don’t necessarily signal a conflict of interest. In fact, some of the physicians who took home the biggest payments last year received them for purposes that had nothing to do with patient care. Several doctors who no longer even practice medicine scored large sums for serving on corporate boards or writing software used in laser-surgery machines, for example.
It’s just another reason some docs and drug companies haven’t been too fond of the idea of full disclosure. The numbers paint an incomplete picture–literally, with CMS for now holding back chunks of payment data thanks to coding problems–and, in some cases, a flawed one, medical professionals say.
Take Michigan doc James VanderLugt, listed as one of the top-paid in the nation in the “nonconsulting compensation” category. In the 5-month period the database covers, he supposedly pocketed $570,000 from Boehringer Ingelheim-owned Roxane Laboratories for leading clinical research as medical director of Jasper Clinical.
But as Jasper CEO Dean Knuth told the WSJ, that’s what the business was paid for conducting the studies. Dr. VanderLugt “would be delighted if he got that!” Knuth said.
And then there’s Gabrial Tender, an associate professor of clinical neurosurgery at Louisiana State University, who reportedly showed through $10,640 from Baxano Surgical for food and beverages. But Tender, who leads a residency program for which med device makers often drop off food, says the number’s a mix-up. “There’s no way I can eat or drink that much,” he told the Journal.
By Carly Helfand