Healthcare Business News

CMS officials defend releasing physician payment data

By Bob Herman
Posted: May 28, 2014 - 6:30 pm ET

Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, along with two other top officials within the CMS, are publicly defending last month's release of Medicare physician payment data, saying the move is part of a broader strategy of government transparency that will include more health data dumps in the future.

Tavenner, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Patrick Conway and Niall Brennan, acting director of CMS' Offices of Enterprise Management, co-authored an article in the New England Journal of Medicine made public Wednesday. It appears to be the agency's first public response to critics since its April 9 publishing of data on Medicare Part B payments of $77 billion to 880,000 providers.

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The database has been accessed more than 300,000 times since its release, the CMS officials wrote. A flurry of news stories has since been published, analyzing the different ways Medicare pays physicians.

The authors acknowledged many within healthcare were upset with the data release but they said the release was part of President Barack Obama's goal of creating a more “open, participatory and collaborative government,” which, they argued, will ultimately improve the healthcare system.

“In particular, we view this data release as an important first step in building greater understanding, on the part of a diverse community of policymakers, data entrepreneurs and consumers, about the way in which Medicare pays physicians and other providers,” they wrote.

Legally, the CMS was not able to publish Medicare payments to doctors until last year. A May 2013 ruling reversed a 1979 court injunction, which said disclosing Medicare rates to physicians was an unwarranted invasion of their privacy.

The American Medical Association has been the most outspoken critic of the release. Specifically, it argued the data lead to flawed conclusions, don't reflect care quality and leave out illness severity.

Tavenner and her co-authors, while not mentioning the AMA in their NEJM perspective piece, said those “points have some merit, but we concluded that these issues did not outweigh the overall benefit of releasing the data.”

Further, they said the database could be enhanced if Medicaid plans and private health insurance carriers added their own data into the mix.

They did not mention what other data will be released in the future. Last year, the CMS released figures on what hospitals charged for the most common inpatient and outpatient procedures.

Follow Bob Herman on Twitter: @MHbherman

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