7 Predictions on Medicare's Release of Physician Payment Data

There are some clues as to how the federal government's data dump on physicians' Medicare payments may pan out, according to ProPublica senior reporter Charles Ornstein.

Mr. Ornstein and his colleagues at ProPublica developed the Prescriber Checkup, which lets consumers look up their physicians to see how their prescription behaviors compare to others in the same specialty and state. The application took intensive analysis of Medicare's drug program data — more than 70 million rows of data on the drugs prescribed by 1.6 million providers in 2011 alone, according to the article.

Based on his experiences with Medicare data and the examples from other media outlets, Mr. Ornstein stated the following seven "takeaways" for how the release of physicians' Medicare payments may play out.

1. Medicare is more likely to release aggregate information than data on individual claims. "This is mostly to protect patient privacy, but also because officials have grown increasingly comfortable writing programs to aggregate the data," wrote Mr. Ornstein.

2. Redactions are expected. Mr. Ornstein said it's safe to assume Medicare will redact data that involves fewer than 11 patients.

3. It's unlikely Medicare will create "a glamorous news application" for consumers to view the data. When the government released data on hospital charges in 2013, it formatted it in a spreadsheet and let media outlets determine how to best display it.

4. It's unlikely Medicare will put together tip sheets and other context to help interpret the data. "While the program should — and probably will — release basic information about what is being released, officials probably won't tell consumers how much weight they should give it," wrote Mr. Ornstein.

5. There will be "far more" requests for Medicare physician data than the Medicare staff assigned or available to fill them.

6. "Those wanting every morsel of Medicare data to be released will likely be disappointed," wrote Mr. Ornstein. "This is a massive, immensely complicated program with many interrelated parts." He said more information may be released each year, but it won't happen overnight.

7. Few news organizations or research groups have the resources to deal with such large data sets and use them to quickly produce meaningful content, according to the article.

More Articles on Medicare Data:

CMS Extends Transparency Movement to Physician Payment
CMS Data Shows Hospital Charges Vary Significantly
CMS: Hospital Outpatient Charges Vary Just as Much as Inpatient

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