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Medicare Doctor Payments to Be Made Public

By Adriel Bettelheim

April 3, 2014 -- The Obama administration plans to publish data on what Medicare paid doctors in 2012, reversing a longstanding curb on making such information public.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said last week that it would release billing information for more than 880,000 health care providers who collectively received $77 billion in payments under the Medicare's Part B fee-for-service program. The data, which will be published on or soon after April 9, will contain details including the frequency with which procedures were done, the average price charged to Medicare and whether the work was done in office settings or medical centers.

The move comes after a federal judge in Florida last June lifted an injunction that had been put in place in 1979 on publishing the information. Dow Jones & Co. Inc., the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, had challenged the injunction, backed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The American Medical Association, the influential doctors' lobby, opposed the release.

"Data like these can shine a light on how care is delivered in the Medicare program," CMS Deputy Principal Administrator Jonathan Blum said in a blog post. "They can help consumers compare the services provided and payments received by individual health care providers. Businesses and consumers alike can use these data to drive decision-making and reward quality, cost-effective care."

CMS said it won't release individual claims, citing privacy concerns.

AMA President Ardis Dee Hoven said in a statement that the administration's approach "will mislead the public into making inappropriate and potentially harmful treatment decisions and will result in unwarranted bias against physicians that can destroy careers."

The doctors' group is recommending that physicians be permitted to review and correct their information prior to the data release.

The CMS move was cheered by data transparency advocates in Congress, such as Sens. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore. The government last year similarly released data on Medicare hospital payments for the most frequently billed discharges.

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