Court to rule soon on Medicare data release
This editorial in the Washington Post points out the importance of public access to Medicare claims data. There has been a legal injunction to access the data since 1979. It is about time it ends.
"Dow Jones is asking District Judge Marcia Morales Howard to lift a 1979 court order that exempted from the Freedom of Information Act all provider-specific data on Medicare payments. Arguments ended in August, and a ruling could come at any time".
This is an important issue for American healthcare. As I have pointed out many times on this blog, transparency of physician performance data is key to improving healthcare. Once physicians see each other's results things will change. Not only are we interested in how much was paid, we also want to see utilization rates and quality performance such as readmission rates and complications. Physicians are very competitive and if we find someone who is outperforming us we quickly try to go there and improve our own score.
The other side of the argument is represented by the AMA: "The doctors warn of "deleterious effects on the physician-patient relationship." One physician affidavit avers that "it would undermine my ability to care for my patients if they think that I might be prescribing" a particular therapy "for the money rather than for their well-being." Public disclosure of Medicare billing would increase such purported misconceptions, because non-experts can‘t interpret the data accurately, the doctors claim".
Oh come on! Times have changed. People, even doctors, need and want this information. The paternalistic view of the AMA on this is something out of the dark ages. For example, physicians in Wisconsin are clamoring for this data to be added to our existing all payer claims data base (Wisconsin Health Information Organization) so as to shine an even more accurate view on their performance.
Hopefully we will move to modern times and leverage the Medicare data set for real health reform.
John S. Toussaint, MD
President and CEO, ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value