Feds Seek Comment on Physician Payment Data

In light of recent court rulings and developments in Congress, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) is asking for public comment on the extent to which the government ought to broaden public access to information on the payments individual physicians receive for treating Medicare patients.
Last May a federal court judge in Florida lifted an injunction dating back to 1979 that had blocked publication of Medicare billing data that would identify individual physicians by name. The ban had long been justified as protecting the privacy rights of physicians. The effort to overturn the ban was led by the parent company of the Wall Street Journal, a consulting outfit called Real Time Medical Data and HHS itself—all three parties argued that continuing injunctive relief was too broad in an era of increasing information transparency. Additionally, HHS notes that the Affordable Care Act includes a provision enabling disclosure of physician-identifying payment information to qualified entities intent on producing public performance reports.
No parties came forward to appeal the Florida judge’s decision and so HHS is now asking for guidance on how broadly to interpret the lifting of the ban. HHS is underscoring that is has no intention of permitting the release of information that would identify individual Medicare beneficiaries by name.
Individuals wishing to comment on the issue have until early September 2013 to respond to HHS. For more information on the issue, visit http://downloads.cms.gov/files/Request-for-Public-Comment-rePhysician-Data-8-6-2013.pdf.