As promised, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid released an unprecedented trove of physician reimbursement data, opening up the agency’s practices to public review and scrutiny.
The data represents payments made to doctors, hospitals and clinics in 2012, including names, addresses, procedures and specific dollars amounts reimbursed for more than 880,000 healthcare providers, amounting to nearly $77.4 billion in payouts.
The data highlighted some of the most common procedures and most often-used reimbursement codes, most of which were for hospital and office visits.
The disclosure has already put some physicians in the spotlight, such as controversial Florida ophthalmologist Dr. Salomon Melgen, the highest-paid individual doctor on Medicare’s list. Melgen collected more than $20.8 million in reimbursements, and his previously scrutinized ties to local politicians drew the attention of data analysts.
Reports cautioned against mistaking high reimbursements for signs of fraud, but the specter of wrongdoing followed many analyses.
"About 1 in 4 of the top-paid doctors – 87 of them – practice in Florida, a state known both for high Medicare spending and widespread fraud," according to an Associated Press report.
The American Medical Assn. had lobbied fervently against the release of the reimbursement data, stalling disclosures for years with warning that the data could "cause "unwarranted bias against physicians that can destroy careers,"American Medical Assn. president Ardis Dee Hoven told reporters. The organization had asked to review the data prior to publication, but was rebuffed.
CMS has maintained that data transparency will help shed light on trends in healthcare that could help uncover inconsistencies and areas for improvement. Previous disclosures have helped spur reports on wide disparities in hospital costs as well as other controversial findings.