CMS to release doc payment data annually

The federal government will publicly release Medicare physician payment data every year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Last year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a year's worth of physician payment data in the wake of a court ruling that threw out a 1979 injunction against the release of such information. However, physicians' groups objected to the decision, saying the data painted an incomplete picture, as the numbers indicated revenue, not net earnings. For example, according to the WSJ, the data indicated some of the strongest earnings among ophthalmologists, but doesn't state that much of the information included major expenditures such as drugs used to treat macular degeneration.

The American Medical Association (AMA) later called for CMS to contextualize the data and clarify that "higher payments from Medicare typically represent higher expenses."

In addition, the data released last year did not include any patient information, which makes it difficult to draw conclusions about outcomes or care quality, according to the WSJ. CMS drew further criticism over what detractors called unnecessarily complex formatting and gaps in the data, FierceHealthFinance previously reported.

The AMA has urged CMS to improve the publication process before releasing any more data, arguing that 2014's data release was inaccurate and enabled "sensationalist" coverage, the WSJ reported. CMS has not stated whether it will alter or expand the next data release.

Despite the industry criticism, Gail Wilensky, Ph.D., who headed Medicare under President George H.W. Bush, argued continuing to publish the data could provide a better perspective on spending and care patterns, according to the article.

"As imperfect as the data may be," she said, "its continued release makes it in the physicians' interest to make it better--more useful and accurate--instead of just fighting its release."  

To learn more:
- read the WSJ article (subscription may be required)