The Federal government will begin releasing Medicare physician payment records annually, allowing public access to information about how billions of dollars are spent each year on payments to providers.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that the government has decided to update the information annually, despite the concerns of groups such as the American Medical Association (AMA), which said that information published last April by the Department of Health and Human Services contained inaccuracies.
The year’s worth of the data was released for the first time in more than 3 decades after Dow Jones and Co. challenged a 1979 injunction that prohibited Medicare from disclosing its payments to doctors. It was not clear at the time whether any more records would be released.
The Wall Street Journal wrote that the data provided the first comprehensive look at a central part of the taxpayer-funded program for the elderly and disabled. It detailed payments to 880,000 individuals and organizations totaling more than $77 billion from the Medicare program in 2012, covering more than 5000 different procedures.
Healthcare Dive wrote that the announcement is consistent with the healthcare industry’s focus on quality and transparency and will help prevent fraud. Many people question whether a physician’s right to privacy outweighs public interest on how dollars are spent, and whether the raw data is meaningful to consumers.
The records had been kept secret through legal efforts by the AMA. In 2013 a federal judge vacated the 1979 injunction. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services didn’t say when it expected to release the next group of records.
The AMA has urged the Department of Health and Human Services not to release any more payment information before making improvements to the data set. The group said information published last spring, which covered payments in 2012, had inaccuracies and exposed its members to sensationalist news coverage.
The data released in April included most payments to doctors, laboratories, ambulance companies, and other medical providers under Medicare Part B, which account for about one-seventh of the program’s nearly $600 billion in annual expenditures.