Details of Medicare Payments to Doctors Finally Go Public after 35 Years

Friday, January 17, 2014

The federal government is finally going public with information about Medicare payments made to doctors—an issue that’s been lingering since the Carter administration.


In 1979, a federal court ordered the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (predecessor to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Medicare) to not release data on how much physicians earned under the healthcare program.


The injunction remained in place for decades, even after the group Consumers Checkbook sued in 2006 under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain data on procedures performed by doctors who treat Medicare beneficiaries.


But the information firewall began to crumble a few years later when The Wall Street Journal sued the department to have the injunction overturned. This legal challenge was successful, resulting in the injunction being lifted last year by a federal court.


As a result, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced this week that it would begin releasing data on payments to individual physicians in the Medicare program.


The Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ), which supported the move, called the release of the data “long overdue.”


“The value of such information to the public far outweighs any privacy claims of physicians,” AHCJ Executive Director Len Bruzzese wrote in a letter to the government. “As long as patient confidentiality is protected, we see no reason why taxpayers should not know how individual physicians are spending public dollars.”


Not everyone is happy with the change in policy.


The American Medical Association’s president, Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven, warned federal officials to “ensure that physician payment information is released only for efforts aimed at improving the quality of healthcare services and with appropriate safeguards.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

The Long-Fight for Access to What Medicare Pays Physicians is Almost Over (by Charles Ornstein, Healthy Buzz)

AMA Fears Privacy Loss as Medicare Moves to Reveal Doc Pay (by Joe Carlson, Modern Healthcare)

Judge Ends 33-Year Ban on Media Access to Medicare Database (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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