Medicare Pay 'Transparency' Divides Physicians

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media , September 5, 2013

The door was kicked open on the transparency question in May, when U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Morales Howard in Jacksonville, FL vacated the longstanding injunction, handed down in 1979, that had prevented CMS from releasing information about payments to individual physicians.

Years ago, the American Medical Association, among others, successfully petitioned the court to prohibit the government from disclosing the amount of taxpayer dollars that individual doctors receive from Medicare reimbursements. The injunction was embedded for so long, HHS was known as the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) when it began.

"Over three decades ago, this court entered an injunction that still serves as a nationwide gag order, severely limiting access to essential information about one of the most important and expensive government programs, Medicare," Dow Jones, parent company of The Wall Street Journal, wrote in court papers opposing the injunction, before Federal Judge Howard made her decision.

The injunction "is now glaringly outdated based on legal and factual landscape that there's virtually no resemblance to in the present day," Dow Jones wrote. The Wall Street Journal sought increased public access to physician records that would help expose waste and abuse, noting its limited data availability in its series, "Secrets of the System."

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