Some GIs receive more industry money than others



Industry payments to U.S. gastroenterologists and hepatologists increased from 2014 to 2016 before beginning to steadily decrease after 2016, but they're largely concentrated among a small few, according to new research published in Gastroenterology.

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The study aimed to identify trends in these specialties in the years after the Sunshine Act, enacted in 2010, and the federal program Open Payments, established in 2013.

“Although Open Payments launched in September of 2014, all the joinpoints in our study occurred more than a year later in 2016, suggesting a delay in observable changes in behavior on industry physician relationships,” wrote Xiaohan Ying, MD, of Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, and colleagues. “Since 2016, we have seen a sustained reduction in general industry payments to physicians while research payments remained stable, which is likely the desired outcome of this program.”

That’s also the conclusion of Lawrence Kosinski, MD, MBA, a spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association, who was not involved in the study.

Dr. Lawrence Kosinski

Dr. Lawrence Kosinski

“Most all of us are aware of the Sunshine Act and have reacted accordingly, so I am not surprised that reimbursement per physician has declined over the time period,” Dr. Kosinski told this news organization. “Many physicians are very sensitive to their reporting and have decreased their exposures,” said Dr. Kosinski, founder of SonarMD and a member of the Health & Human Services Advisory Committee on Value-Based Payment. “What does surprise me is the marked disparity in payments with a very small number of physicians receiving tremendous reimbursement from speaking engagements and promotions.”

The researchers retrospectively analyzed industry payments to 26,981 practicing pediatric and adults gastroenterologists and hepatologists using the National Plan and Provider Enumeration System and data from Open Payments between January 2014 and December 2020. The researchers excluded education payments and focused on general payments, which “include charitable contribution, speaker fees, consulting fees, ownership and investments, education, entertainment, food and beverages, gift, honoraria, royalty and license, and travel and lodging,” they reported.

Who gets paid, and how much?

While $27.5 million was going to research and grants, most of the payments ($403.3 million) were general payments; out of the total payments to specialists, $30 million went to hepatology, and $400.8 million went to gastroenterology. Nearly all of the general payments ($398.1 million) were for noneducation purposes; 90.5% of general payments went to men and 9.5% went to women, at an average of $17,167 per person. Nearly half the payments (43.8%) were for speaker fees, totaling $174.3 million, followed by 18.4% going to consulting ($73.1 million) and 12.9% going to food and beverages ($51.5 million).

Most of the physicians accepting payments (86.6%) received less than $10,000, but this made up only 8.3% of all payments. Meanwhile, 74% of all the payments, $294.6 million, went to just 3.1% of the physicians, all of whom received more than $100,000.

That breakdown is what most caught Dr. Kosinki’s attention.

“It’s one thing for a speaker to declare that they are receiving funds from pharma, but they never let us know how much,” Dr. Kosinski said. “Some of these speakers are realizing a very significant payment, which could change the opinions of those listening to their presentations.”

The authors reported that a group of 50 top earners (0.2%) received more than $1 million between 2014 and 2020. Their payments totaled $94.8 million and accounted for nearly a quarter (23.8%) of all the payments. All but one of these physicians were men, and one physician has received more than $1 million every year since 2014.


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