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Journalists and consumer advocates like to think that when outrages are revealed, the glare of publicity will put a stop to them. Everyone knows this isn't true, but they like to believe it anyway.

Case in point: payments by the drug industry to doctors. When the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) started gathering data on drug companies' munificence towards doctors -- consulting payments, speaking fees, trips, free meals, and so forth -- there was speculation that the public disclosure would put an end to the practice.

Surely, earnest reformers thought, when the kickbacks (let's be honest here) were revealed, doctors would recoil in shame and stop accepting them and the drug companies would begin to act more responsibly.

Of course, neither of those things happened and the latest entries in the CMS Open Payments database show the flow of money and favors was uninterrupted in 2016, when Big Pharma handed out $2.8 billion to doctors, up from $2.68 billion in 2015, as FiercePharma reported today.

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CMS data

Just for starters

Of course, that's not the whole picture. The $2.8 billion was just for what we might call effluvia -- little favors, hardly more than tips. Drug companies also pay doctors and the businesses doctors own for research, royalties, licensing fees, and so forth. All told, drug companies and medical device manufacturers paid a total of $8.2 billion to doctors when those expenses are added in.

Allergan topped the list, with $66.4 million in payments, followed by Sanofi, Celgene, and Valeant. 

The data collection and publication of the results came about as a result of the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, part of the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare.

Whether the data will continue to be made public if Congress succeeds in repealing Obamacare isn't clear at this point.


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