CMS introduces tool to explore physician payments

After releasing enormous amounts of raw physician payment data to the public last month, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has introduced a more consumer-friendly--but apparently incomplete--search engine, according to Medscape Multispecialty.

The CMS tool is "coy" regarding tying specific sums to physicians who participated in the Part B fee-for-service program, according to the publication. By contrast, search tools released by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times provide clear sums for each physician who participated in Medicare Part B and performed 11 or more procedures that led to reimbursement.

If a user of the CMS payment search engine wants to obtain a grand total of all payments a physician receives for all billing codes, they must do so "by multiplying the number of services rendered per billing code times the average Medicare payment per service, and then adding the grand totals for all services," according to Medscape Multispecialty. By contrast, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal's search engines automatically calculates the figures. 

The CMS came under some criticism for the way it released the data, which it touted as readily accessible to consumers, even though it meant users had to use a special database to download the raw data in its entirety, and there were significant gaps in the 13 files it released in an Excel spreadsheet format.

And CMS' new tool has also come under criticism from the provider community, even though the agency released an 11-page disclaimer on what the data does not cover, according to the publication.

"We believe that some of the limitations listed require better explanation and that more resources need to be spent on providing data that would actually improve care," said Ardis Dee Hoven, M.D., president of the American Medical Association. The AMA, which had fought the release of physician-specific payment data for decades, was unhappy that doctors did not have a chance to check the numbers for accuracy prior to their release.

To learn more:
- read the Medscape Multispecialty article (registration may be required)
- check out the New York Times database
- here's the Wall Street Journal database
- visit the CMS database