CMS Moves Toward Greater Transparency

Historically, information on charges and costs for health care services has not been available to the public. Receiving a bill at the end of a treatment was generally the only way a person could find out the cost of health care services. CMS is working to usher in a new era of transparency and is very pleased to announce its next steps to create a more transparent health care system.

Today, CMS is releasing a request for public comment regarding physician-specific payment information. On May 31, 2013, a Florida federal district court lifted a 1979 permanent injunction that prohibited CMS from disclosing annual Medicare reimbursement payments to individual physicians.  In light of this recent legal development and our ongoing commitment to greater transparency in the health care system, CMS seeks public input on the best way to move forward. We are seeking input in three specific areas:

  1. how to properly weigh the balance between any potential privacy interest a provider has and the public interest in disclosure of Medicare payment information;
  2. what specific policies CMS should consider with respect to disclosure of individual physician payment data, especially with to prevent the release of any health information on any Medicare beneficiary; and
  3. what form any potential data release might take (e.g., line item claim details, aggregated data at the individual physician level).

In addition to releasing this request for public comment, CMS is also announcing four new qualified entities (QE). Created as part of the Affordable Care Act, the Medicare Data Sharing for Performance Measurement Program allows organizations to combine Medicare claims data from CMS with claims data from other payers to evaluate the performance of providers, services, and suppliers. The four additional QEs named today are Minnesota Community Measurement (MNCM), Wisconsin Health Information Organization (WHIO), Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), and the Center for Improving Value in Health Care (CIVHC). They will join the seven existing QEs in helping CMS improve quality, reduce costs, provide important information to beneficiaries to help them make health care decisions, and increase transparency.

Today’s announcements are only the latest of several efforts that demonstrate this Administration’s and this agency’s commitment to making health care more transparent.  In May 2013, CMS released information on the average charges for the 100 most common inpatient services at more than 3,000 hospitals nationwide, followed in June with the release of average charges for 30 selected outpatient procedures. CMS has also prioritized the provision of Medicare data to Accountable Care Organizations partnering with Medicare to improve care.

It is important to note that none of these efforts will result in the public disclosure of any information that could directly or indirectly reveal patient-identifiable information.  CMS is committed to appropriately the privacy of its beneficiaries.

CMS recognizes the potential for transforming the health care system that our data provides. By making our charge information public, we can help promote initiatives that can reduce costs and improve quality. This is only the latest step CMS is taking to increase transparency, but it won’t be the last.

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