Doc leaders split over public Medicare payment data

When it comes to making Medicare payments to physicians available to the public, the physician leadership community has deeply divided opinions, according to a new poll from the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE).  

ACPE polled its members via email and out of 593 responses, 46 percent said they wanted to keep Medicare payment data private, and 42 percent said they wanted to make the information public. About 12 percent was unsure.

Those against making Medicare physician payments public said the data could be easily misinterpreted and largely misleading, and could lead to "doctor-bashing," according to comments posted to a sounding board on the ACPE website. Another physician leader called the move a slippery slope of exposing private information about an individual's earnings.

"What purpose does this action serve?" wrote Kenneth Maxwell, M.D., from North Carolina. "Publishing the amount of Medicare reimbursement without some form of normative information provides no useful information for consumers."

For physician leaders who want to make the data public, they maintained the public has a right to know how their taxpayer dollars are being spent. One ACPE member also noted public Medicare payment data could help eliminate the notion that "greedy doctors" are driving up healthcare costs.

"It's taxpayer money. They should know. Period. Same goes for where every other tax dollar goes," according to another ACPE member comment on the sounding board.

The poll question was prompted by a federal judge's decision in June to end a 33-year ban on public access to a confidential database of Medicare insurance claims. Overturning the injunction means patients can find out how much Medicare paid their doctors and may generate increased scrutiny of how much physicians charge for their services, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is asking for physician feedback on the issue, a "wise" move given the almost evenly split poll responses, according to ACPE CEO Peter Angood, M.D. "No matter what your opinion on this subject may be, there's no doubt the move toward greater transparency in medicine and increased public reporting is here to stay--and we believe it is necessary," Angood said in the poll announcement.

For more:
- here's the announcement
- check out the sounding board