Proposed Alterations to Physician Payment Sunshine Act Puts Spotlight on Physician Assistants

Over the years, physician assistant’s responsibilities have evolved with the needs of the public. While the same may not have been true a few decades ago, physician assistants today undergo expert training and education and are certified to prescribe certain medications that previously only doctors could.

However, it is not uncommon to see doctors coming under fire for abusing their prescriptive authority by selling their services to pharmaceutical companies. Companies will pay doctors thousands of dollars to prescribe their medicine to patients in lieu of treatments that might have similar results.

In response, the Physician Payment Sunshine Act (PPSA) was established. It requires pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers to disclose payments made to doctors, dentists, chiropractors, and other medical professionals with advanced degrees.

However, the PPSA does not include physician assistants and nurse practitioners, creating a loophole. Physician assistants cannot prescribe many controlled narcotics like doctors, but they are still able to prescribe and recommend a variety of medications and treatments.

Pharmaceutical companies have taken advantage of this. A physician assistant in Rhode Island was sentenced to 6 months in prison after it was revealed that he had taken kickbacks from a medical device manufacturers amounting to $120,000. It is more difficult to identify if a physician assistant is receiving kickbacks from a corporation because corporations are not required by law to report the kickbacks, though the practice is still illegal in and of itself.

Iowa Senator Charles Grassley proposed a bill last Wednesday that would update the PPSA to include physician assistants and nurse practitioners. If the bill passes, it will cause sweeping change in the medical field. It does more than just put added scrutiny on physician assistants. It also shows their importance to the medical process. They play a huge part in helping patients to find the best possible treatment. Doing so ethically, with the patient’s needs at the forefront, is a crucial part of providing the highest quality care.

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