Early Wednesday morning, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released a potential treasure trove of 2012 Medicare physician claim information.
Hours later on a conference call with media, CMS officials presented a spirited defense for making the data public for the first time since 1979, when a US District Court issued an injunction that blocked its release due to privacy concerns. The injunction was lifted last May.
"CMS has taken another huge step to making the Medicare system more transparent," Principal Deputy Administrator Jonathan said. "For too long, this information was not made public."
He started with the contention that "the public has a right to know this information," which includes Medicare payment and utilization data for about 880,000 physicians nationwide. The total of the Medicare payments to physicians tallied in the 2012 data is about $77 billion.
Another factor Blum cited was wide variance in doctor payment data from state to state and within state borders. The release of the claims data will help stakeholders, patients, and the public "better understand the variation," he said. "We know there is waste in the system. We know there is fraud in the system."