The Senate Finance Committee recently called for federal agencies to begin investigating physician owned distributors’ (PODs) alleged noncompliance with the U.S. Physician Payment Sunshine Act (Sunshine Act, or Open Payments). The letter is addressed to the head of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). If acted upon, the OIG/CMS investigations could change the landscape of the Sunshine Act in an important way: any resulting public enforcement would most likely be a first.
How the Sunshine Act Applies to PODs
The Sunshine Act requires applicable manufacturers and group purchasing organizations (GPOs) to annually disclose payments or transfers of value to covered recipients (physicians and teaching hospitals), as well as to disclose ownership or investment interests held by U.S. physicians or their immediate family members (with an exception for publicly traded companies).
PODs, which distribute revenue to their physician owners in a variety of ways, generally have obligations to file such reports under the Sunshine Act in one of two ways:
- The POD falls within the definition of a “GPO.” CMS defines a GPO as “an entity that (1) Operates in the United States; and (2) Purchases, arranges for or negotiates the purchase of a covered drug or device, biological, or medical supply for a group of individuals or entities, but not solely for use by the entity itself.”1 CMS has been clear that it intends this definition to include PODs.2
- The POD qualifies as an “applicable manufacturer.” To the extent that a POD takes title to a product, the Sunshine Act implementing regulations make clear that PODs are “subject to the same requirements as all other applicable manufacturers.”3
Sunshine Enforcement Landscape
Under the Sunshine Act, the knowing failure to disclose reportable payments or ownership interests is punishable by a civil monetary penalty of up to $10,000 for each item not timely reported. However, despite nearly a decade since enactment and five cycles of data reporting (this year will be the sixth), there have been no public enforcement actions. (We must acknowledge, however, the possibility that investigations may be ongoing and merely not yet publicly disclosed, or were resolved without penalty and therefore not publicly announced.)
Interestingly, the March 19, 2019, letter, written by Senators Chuck Grassley and Ron Wyden (Chairman and Ranking Member, respectively, of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee), appears to imply that the authors have knowledge of specific violations by PODs: “It has come to our attention that some physician owned distributorships (PODs) may be failing to disclose physician ownership or investment interest as required by the Physician Payment Sunshine Act (Sunshine Act).”
Continue Reading Senate Committee Calls for Sunshine Act/Open Payments Enforcement