CMS Extends Transparency Movement to Physician Payment

Effective this March, HHS and CMS will evaluate Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, requests on a case-by-case basis for individual Medicare payments made to physicians.

In a 1980 policy decision, HHS previously said that "considering the two competing interests of public transparency and privacy," Medicare physician data could not be provided through FOIA requests. The judgment was based on two court rulings that said physician privacy trumped the public release of their Medicare data.

Last year, one of the district courts involved in the issue vacated its ruling. HHS and CMS then asked for public comment last August, receiving letters from more than 300 healthcare organizations and individuals.

Ultimately, the federal government said providing Medicare physician reimbursement data to the public in certain situations could benefit the healthcare system. For example, providers could look at the data to find areas to root out waste, while patients and journalists could identify areas of high quality or poor performance.

"As CMS makes a determination about how and when to disclose any information on a physician's Medicare payment, we intend to consider the importance of protecting physicians' privacy and ensuring the accuracy of any data released as well as appropriate protections to limit potential misuse of the information," CMS Principal Deputy Administrator Jonathan Blum wrote in a blog post. "And as always, we are committed to protecting the privacy of Medicare beneficiaries."

The decision comes after HHS and CMS released troves of hospital charge data last year on the 100 most common inpatient services and the 30 most common outpatient services.

More Articles on Physicians and Medicare:
Paying for Population Health: Why Rewarding Value is Key
Top 10 Physician Complaints of 2013
6 Key Statistics on Medicare Beneficiaries' Access to Physicians

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