Medicare officials released a statement this week defending the agency’s decision to expose payments made to more than 880,000 physicians, saying that efforts to increase transparency pose more benefits than risks.
The New England Journal of Medicine this week published a perspective piece penned by Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator Marilyn Tavenner, offices of enterprise management acting director Niall Brennan and innovation & quality deputy administrator Dr. Patrick Conway. The article, focused mostly on concerns voiced by physicians, maintained that CMS stands behind its data transparency initiative, adding that more releases are on the way.
"CMS is committed to producing and releasing high-quality data that permit as many users as possible to better understand the Medicare program," the authors wrote. "The physician data release is part of a broader strategy of data transparency, and we plan to continue to release additional data in the future. We believe that transparency will drive health system improvement."
The authors ceded that there are important concerns about the data, such as the inability to reflect quality of care and the potential damage to a physicians’ reputations.
"All these points have some merit, but we concluded that these issues did not outweigh the overall benefit of releasing the data. In particular, we view this data release as an important first step in building greater understanding, on the part of a diverse community of policymakers, data entrepreneurs, and consumers, about the way in which Medicare pays physicians and other providers."
The CMS leaders invited other healthcare stakeholders to help make the database more robust and representative by including more sources of information, saying that the agency already has 12 independent quality-measurement organizations enlisted to help combine Medicare data with other types of sources.
CMS rocked the healthcare landscape last month when it released the long-awaited physician payment data, spurring a slew of reports on doctors and therapies accounting for the largest chunks of Medicare’s coffers. ProPublica earlier this month released its report on the doctors received the highest payments from Medicare.
Already a team of Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalists at the Center for Public Integrity has filed a lawsuit against CMS to force the agency to disclose data from its Medicare Advantage Program, especially audits and other records pertaining to entities suspected of overcharging federal healthcare programs.