By Andrew Schmertz
It comes as no surprise that hospitals and doctors receive money from the pharmaceutical and medical device industry. But thanks to a relatively new law, we now know how much.
According to data collected by the federal government, the industry handed out nearly $59 million in New Jersey in 2015.
Dr. Brian Strom is the chancellor of biomedical and health sciences at Rutgers. He credits the new rules — part of the Affordable Care Act — for improving transparency.
“There are lots of payments that are made by industry to physicians, to hospitals and to other organizations. And the idea is to let the public see what they are,” Strom said.
According to the report by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 23,000 doctors and health care professionals in New Jersey received payments ranging from as little as a penny to more than $4 million.
“I don’t think the expenditure of money per say is of concern, I think it’s the reason to begin a conversation,” Strom said.
The New Jersey hospitals that received the most? Hackensack University Medical Center earned nearly $792,000. Morristown Medical Center received $550,000. And St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center got $284,000.
There’s no accusation that any of the payments are improper.
But health care consumer advocates say these payments lead to higher health care costs.
“Transparency without any action on the back end is useless,” said New Jersey Citizen Action Health Care Organizer India Hayes Larrier. “What we would like to see the action be is that people who are doing this sort of spending, the people who are recipients of this sort of spending would be held accountable. That you must show where this benefits the consumer and does not increase their costs.”
So what do you as a health consumer do with this information? Well the basic advice: ask questions. If your doctor prescribes a drug, tests or procedures, ask your doctor if there is any financial interest in companies related to any of those.
“My wife a few years ago had a hip replacement. One of the questions we asked her surgeon was ‘Are you getting money from that manufacturer?’ The physician’s job is to look at what’s in the best interest for you personally. If they’re doing something because it’s not in their interest, that’s important for you to know as a patient,” Strom said.
The New Jersey Hospital Association doesn’t disagree but told us in a statement, “Collaboration between physicians, teaching hospitals and drug companies are important in developing life-saving drugs and devices and sometimes that collaborative work involves funding to perform clinical trials or other research. We understand and appreciate the importance of transparency in those matters.”
This is the third year the government has collected the data. Nationwide, a total of $7.5 billion were paid by the industry.