Though few patients realize it, many doctors receive thousands of dollars from pharmaceutical companies for each patient enrolled in an experimental drug trial. The medication might be the best thing for the patient's condition. The doctor's motives might be pure. But patients should be able to find out about such payments so they can discuss them with their doctors and decide for themselves whether the doctor's participation in an experiment might compromise his medical advice.
A provision of the 2010 healthcare reform law should bring new transparency about these and other corporate payments to physicians — including lavish dinners, gifts and industry-sponsored conventions that are more luxury vacations than medical conferences — by publishing the information in an online database. But the final regulations to implement the Physician Payment Sunshine Act were supposed to be published in October 2011; the database was supposed to go live later this year. Instead, the regulations are 15 months overdue.
As with the new food-safety act regulations — most of which were finally released in January, a full year past deadline — the sunshine rules have been drawn up by the appropriate agency but have been held up by the Office of Management and Budget. One theory for the delay, advanced by critics of the administration, is that President Obama wanted to avoid issuing regulations during election season, when the extent of government's reach was a contentious issue. That would be a poor excuse, if true. In any case, the election is over; at this point the delay smacks more of bureaucratic inefficiency than political expediency.