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Doctors, hospitals get $6.5 billion from drug, medical device firms last year

Doctors and teaching hospitals received $6.5 billion last year from drug companies and medical device firms for research, consulting and other reasons, new federal data show.

The details published Tuesday by the Obama administration mark the second batch of data on industry ties to medical providers.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, federal health officials released information last year on payments made for five months of 2013. The latest data cover all of 2014.

Consumers can look up information on 607,000 U.S. physicians and 1,121 teaching hospitals using the federal government's Open Payments database.

"This is part of our larger effort to open up the healthcare system to consumers by providing more information to help in their decision making," said Andy Slavitt, acting administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

There were 1,444 companies that made payments in 2014. About half of the $6.5 billion in payouts were classified for research purposes. More than $2.5 billion was labeled as general payments, and $703 million represented ownership or investment interests held by medical providers.

Consumer advocates and federal lawmakers have pushed for these disclosures for years out of concern that conflicts of interest in the medical profession are jeopardizing patient care and costing taxpayer-funded health programs.

Health-policy experts have warned that these industry ties, from speaking and consulting fees to luxury trips and meals, can lead to patients getting the wrong drugs or medical procedures.

Those decisions can harm patients and drive up the nation's $3-trillion medical tab, experts warn.

The American Medical Assn. cautioned patients against drawing too many conclusions from the information.

The physicians' group said the data can be inaccurate and misleading, and that relationships with drug and device firms can foster breakthroughs in treatment.

"While the AMA strongly opposes inappropriate, unethical interactions between physicians and industry, there are relationships that can help drive innovation in patient care and provide significant resources for professional medical education," the group said in a statement.

Twitter: @chadterhune

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