Historic release of data delivers unprecedented transparency on the medical services physicians provide and how much they are paid

By Jonathan Blum, Principal Deputy Administrator, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Today the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) took a major step forward in making Medicare data more transparent and accessible, while maintaining the privacy of beneficiaries, by announcing the release of new data on medical services and procedures furnished to Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries by physicians and other healthcare professionals (http://www.cms.gov/newsroom/newsroom-center.html). For too long, the only information on physicians readily available to consumers was physician name, address and phone number. This data will, for the first time, provide a better picture of how physicians practice in the Medicare program.

This new data set includes over nine million rows of data on more than 880,000 physicians and other healthcare professionals in all 50 states, DC and Puerto Rico providing care to Medicare beneficiaries in 2012. The data set presents key information on the provision of services by physicians and how much they are paid for those services, and is organized by provider (National Provider Identifier or NPI), type of service (Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System, or HCPCS) code, and whether the service was performed in a facility or office setting. This public data set includes the number of services, average submitted charges, average allowed amount, average Medicare payment, and a count of unique beneficiaries treated. CMS takes beneficiary privacy very seriously and we will protect patient-identifiable information by redacting any data in cases where it includes fewer than 11 beneficiaries.

Previously, CMS could not release this information due to a permanent injunction issued by a court in 1979. However, in May 2013, the court vacated this injunction, causing a series of events that has led CMS to be able to make this information available for the first time.

Data to Fuel Research and Innovation

In addition to the public data release, CMS is making slight modifications to the process to request CMS data for research purposes. This will allow researchers to conduct important research at the physician level. As with the public release of information described above, CMS will continue to prohibit the release of patient-identifiable information. For more information about CMS’s disclosures to researchers, please contact the Research Data Assistance Center (ResDAC) at http://www.resdac.org/.

Unprecedented Data Access

This data release follows other CMS efforts to make more data available to the public. Since 2010, the agency has released an unprecedented amount of aggregated data in machine-readable form, with much of it available at http://www.healthdata.gov. These data range from previously unpublished statistics on Medicare spending, utilization, and quality at the state, hospital referral region, and county level, to detailed information on the quality performance of hospitals, nursing homes, and other providers.

In May 2013, CMS released information on the average charges for the 100 most common inpatient services at more than 3,000 hospitals nationwide http://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/Medicare-Provider-Charge-Data/Inpatient.html.

In June 2013, CMS released average charges for 30 selected outpatient procedures http://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/Medicare-Provider-Charge-Data/Outpatient.html.

We will continue to work toward harnessing the power of data to promote quality and value, and improve the health of our seniors and persons with disabilities.

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