CMS plans landmark release of Medicare data

Federal health officials are preparing to release previously undisclosed Medicare data as a way to heighten transparency and discourage waste in the notoriously opaque U.S. healthcare system.

Expected within a week, the unprecedented report comes as part of the Affordable Care Act and will reveal the services performed and payments received by Medicare physicians in 2012. The initiative is primarily aimed at researchers interested in studying usage trends and will not contain information about specific beneficiaries.

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the agency's plans for the report on Wednesday, calling the forthcoming data release a major step forward for price transparency in the healthcare system.

"While we have made significant progress in making the healthcare system more open and accountable, we look forward to making this important, new information available so that consumers, Medicare and other payers can get the best value for their healthcare dollar," CMS Principal Deputy Administrator Jonathan Blum wrote in a blog post.

The CMS emphasized it would take pains to prevent anyone from linking provider information to individual beneficiaries who might have used the medical services listed in the data. The agency will not release information where the number of beneficiaries for a single provider is fewer than 11, it said.

The release will follow a similar disclosure on hospital charges last year that revealed significant price disparities even within a small geographic area.

Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), co-authors of the Medicare Data Access for Transparency and Accountability Act, said in a release the data will “provide the public unprecedented access to information about the number and type of health care services that" Medicare performed in 2012.

“Transparency is key to improving care for patients and creating greater efficiencies in health care,” Wyden said. “Today’s announcement is a huge step forward for Medicare enrollees, who should be able to compare doctors, hospitals and clinics on the basis of quality and price.”

Grassley concurred: "More transparency has made a difference in accountability in the tax-exempt sector, and it does the same wherever it’s applied in health care. The public’s business ought to be public."

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