Medical meeting managers have been preparing for the first Physician Payments Sunshine Act reporting deadline for years—but planning is no guarantee that the reporting process will go smoothly. Like any new compliance program, the PPSA rollout has been fraught with last-minute rule changes and clarification and the source of anxiety and headaches for those in the medical meeting industry. Here are a few potential problem areas keeping event planners up at night.
Generalized HCP Freak-Out
A survey by tech company MMIS in early 2013 showed that over 50% of the 1,025 HCPs respondents did not realize the provisions of the Sunshine Act required tracking transfers of value other than honoraria. The same percentage was also unaware that the payments would be made public. Worst of all, 63% were deeply concerned because they didn't trust the pharma and device companies to get the numbers right.
Even if the ongoing HCP education campaigns are wildly successful, and all HCPs are fully aware of the law's requirements by the time of the first report, it won't mitigate the impact of the troubling 63% who expect inaccurate reports. This bodes poorly for provider relations once the reports are sent.
If an HCP disputes a payment during the 45-day review period once the data has been reported, event managers have just 15 short days to respond and justify charges. The massive amount of data that must be collected, stored, maintained and retrieved on short notice presents challenges that meeting planners have yet to fully solve.
Daniel Garen, keynote speaker at last year's Forum, stressed the need for an extremely organized and efficient storage and organization system for all of the paperwork needed to support payments. “This cannot be in the ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ warehouse—you’re going to need to get your hands on this quickly. This dispute-resolution process will be huge," he said. He recommended having a communication team in place to manage the process.
What Happens in an Audit?
The financial penalties for making a mistake are high enough: $10,000 if you report them. The risk jumps to $100,000 each if a mistake is discovered for you. The audit process can cover every aspect of medical meetings, from planning and development through budget reconciliation. The number of federal agencies who can open an investigation is intimidating: Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General and Health and Human Services, just to name a few.
Meeting planners are training themselves to think like auditors and ramping up their documentation practices to prepare for potential investigations. The level of uncertainty about what payments or behaviors trigger an investigation will remain high until the first reports are reviewed by CMS and the first audit is initiated into some unlucky planner's event.
Will PPSA End of Face-to-Face Meetings?
Job security keeps everyone awake at night, and the increased reliance on virtual medical meetings in the pharmaceutical and device manufacturing industries is definitely sounding alarms with medical meeting planners. The Wall Street Journal reports that in 2013, drug giant Pfizer reduced spending on expert-led forums by 60%, and spending on physicians by 11% over 2012 levels, while shifting its focus to virtual meeting formats. Similarly, GlaxoSmithKline reduced meeting spend by 20%.
If corporate cost cutting wasn't enough, the trend among doctors who realize payments will be made public is to cut back on meeting participation. At the West Coast Life Science Meeting Management Forum, HCPs talked about patient perception and the potential press fallout over the first round of reports. Speaking of accepting payments for attending meetings, one doctor said, "Like others, doctors love positive press and hate negative press…if there’s any perception that a doc is a money grubber, that could kill the practice.”
Medical meeting managers trying to prepare for reaction to the first Physician Payments Sunshine Act reports should keep in mind the following points:
- Make sure everyone working on an event understands the importance of documentation and knows the recordkeeping policy.
- Provide estimates to HCPs with event materials and remind them that TOVs will be reported and publicly available.
- Develop a document storage and retrieval policy, understanding records will need to be kept for a minimum of five years, and preferably nine.
- Formalize a dispute resolution process and designate a communications professional or team to manage it.
- Beef up your virtual meeting skills and technology and look at ways to monetize event content to add value to your organization.
Unfortunately, meeting the first reporting deadline won't provide much relief to the generalized anxiety among medical meeting managers. As Thomas Gustafson, a DC public policy advisor says, "“It doesn’t remove all uncertainty because you’ve got a bunch of lawyers with all kinds of additional questions, and people will be raising those as they unpack this rule and try to figure out what it’s going to mean." Most planners expect more chaos in 2014, especially when HCPs access their reports in June.
To learn more about how to prepare for the days following the Sunshine reporting deadline, check out the panel discussion "Rally Your Counterparts to Work Together on Sunshine Requirements" at PHARMA FORUM 2014, March 23-26, 2014 in Orlando, FL.
(Image courtesy of Nigel Howe via Flickr)