Spinning the Medicare Data Release

Posted on April 9, 2014 by


Today the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a partial data set on payments to Medicare  providers. While the data will provide some interesting insights on Medicare payments, for example the Wall Street Journal says:

The top 1% of 825,000 individual medical providers accounted for 14% of the $77 billion in billing recorded in the data.

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I discovered the Obama administration had created an interesting spin about the release of the data. The website CMS.gov said:

As part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to make our healthcare system more transparent, affordable, and accountable, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has prepared a public data set, the Medicare Provider Utilization and Payment Data: Physician and Other Supplier Public Use File (Physician and Other Supplier PUF), with information on services and procedures provided to Medicare beneficiaries by physicians and other healthcare professionals.

The Wall Street Journal described the release of the data this way.

The data has been under wraps since 1979, when the AMA won a federal injunction that prohibited the release of doctor-specific Medicare information on the grounds of physician privacy.

The Wall Street Journal obtained a limited amount of physician-level data in exchange for a fee and submitted to a restrictive data-use agreement, using the data to publish a series of articles highlighting fraud and abuse in the Medicare program in 2010.

In 2011, the Journal’s parent company, Dow Jones & Co., intervened in a lawsuit to overturn the 1979 injunction. And, last year, a federal judge in Florida vacated the injunction. CMS said it would begin to evaluate requests for physician-level billing data “on a case-by-case basis.”

So data that has been embargoed for the last 30 years and is only released as a result of a lawsuit is described as part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to make our healthcare system more transparent affordable and accountable.