2014 Year in Review

2015 is upon us! It seems like only yesterday we were posting our 2014 Compliance Year in Review. Time sure does fly! We here at the Compliance News in Review wish you and yours the best for a happy and healthy 2015. But don’t toss out that warm glass of sparkling cider or noisemaker yet. It’s time to take a look back at a year’s worth of news, with the Compliance News Year in Review2014 Edition.

Our countdown begins with what had to be the big story of 2014 – the never ending saga of Open Payments and the Sunshine Act. The year began with a two-phase registration and data submission process for Applicable Manufacturers and GPOs. Phase 1 opened in February and Phase 2 was supposed to start in May. As it turned out, Phase 2 was delayed until June and was deployed in two phases itself, and not without some technical difficulty. So much so that PhRMA petitioned CMS to extend Phase 2 by as much as 30 days.

The registration of physicians and the opening of the review and dispute period represented the next big milestones. That’s when the fireworks really started. Physicians had problems registering, and when they could finally view the data, there were significant problems – confusing “error” messages, missing payments, payments attributed incorrectly. CMS took the system down to correct the problems, and extended the review and dispute period to accommodate for the time the system was down. When Open Payments opened back up for physicians, almost one-third of manufacturer records were “missing.” Eventually, CMS said the records were withheld due to data matching problems. A number of issues were identified that caused the data to disappear. The primary offenders appeared to be state license numbers and NPI numbers submitted by manufacturers and GPOs that did not exactly match what CMS had in its database for those identifiers. Despite all the delays and problems, CMS said the September 30th date for making payment records public would stand, minus the withheld records. Those records would be published by June 30 of the next year.

September 30th came, data was published, and all was right with the world, right? Onward to 2015! Not so fast there dear readers. As we all spent time regretting those unfortunate photos taken at the office Christmas party, CMS elves were busy at work. The agency released 68,000 records that were previously withheld, notified users that Open Payments would be unavailable for most of January to allow time for system maintenance, and announced it will be hosting an Open Payments Q&A in early 2015.

Yes, it was a full year of Open Payments fun, but the news surrounding the data was not all CMS had up its transparency sleeve. The agency notified stakeholders that changes were on the way for Sunshine’s Final Rule. The one change that sparked the most debate was the removal of the exemption for payments to physicians speaking at accredited CME events. Medical societies, physician groups and CME providers were staunchly opposed to the change, but it was still made official in October. The change will take effect in 2016 but it may not be the end of the road for the exemption. A bipartisan bill was proposed to exempt indirect CME payments, as well as the value of medical textbooks and reprints.

Other news of note on the transparency front for 2014 included the passage of a law in Connecticut that requires the reporting of industry payments to nurse practitioners; Minnesota making good on the Board of Pharmacy’s notification that payments to nurse practitioners and others would be required in 2015 reports; and the changes in transparency requirements to the Medicines Australia Code of Conduct.

The cork popped on GSK’s bribery woes in 2014. The company was one of several pharmaceutical companies under investigation by the Chinese government for allegations of bribery. The company announced it was investigating potential bribery in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Poland, and Syria. GSK enhanced its compliance efforts in China and fired several employees over failure to adhere to expenses rules. In the fall, it was able to close the book on the Chinese investigation with a fine of close to $500 million dollars. The head of China operations and four other executives were sentenced in the matter, but all had their jail sentences suspended and avoided actual jail time. The head of China operations, a British national, was deported. The company could still face legal action from the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office for violating bribery laws.

The FDA resolved it would make the July 2014 deadline for social media guidance, and it actually did! Three draft guidance documents related to social media were published. One document is related to the submission of advertising content, and the other two dealt with actual postings on social media platforms. The guidance on correcting misinformation on social media platforms applies to correcting independent user-generated content, and not content generated by a company, its employees or agents.

The more anticipated document, and the one that drew the most criticism, deals with the posting of information on character-limited platforms, such as Twitter. Some companies feel the FDA has basically restricted them from using character-limited platforms to promote their products due to strict requirements around presenting risk and benefit. The Washington Legal Foundation and the Medical Information Working Group said the guidance infringes upon manufacturers First Amendment rights.

And there you have it, our choices for top stories of 2014. What will be the “big news” of 2015? If we were betting people, we’d put money on Open Payments and Sunshine being the stories that generate the most headlines. With a full year’s worth of spend data hitting the system for the first time, expect more hiccups. Also, a full year’s worth of data is likely to reveal even more issues and have the pundits buzzing. Transparency overseas will likely make news in 2015, as EFPIA member associations and Medicines Australia members begin collecting data for disclosure in 2016.

There was a noticeable lack of big dollar enforcement cases in healthcare fraud and FCPA cases last year. While the DOJ could boast upwards to $2 billion in healthcare fraud recoveries for the 2014 fiscal year, there were no billion or multibillion dollar settlements with life sciences companies. The crystal ball is a little cloudy on that front. Was 2014 the calm before the next storm, or has the season of the multimillion to billion dollar settlements with pharma and med device companies come to an end?

FCPA enforcement actions were in a bit of a lull through at least the first half of 2014 compared to years past. The DOJ ended the year on a big note though, with its Alstom settlement. As far as we’re concerned, it’s been a little too quiet lately where FCPA enforcement is concerned, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see more activity in 2015. Don’t be surprised if we see actions against the handful of pharma companies that were accused of passing bribes in China in 2013.

Whatever 2015 brings, we’ll be writing about it through our weekly Compliance News in Review. Have a great year everyone and as always, thanks for reading!

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