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CMS to Make Physician Payment Information Available on Case-by-Case Basis

On January 14, 2014, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) modified their policy regarding the disclosure of physician payment information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Effective March 18, 2014, CMS will now evaluate requests for individual physician payment information on a case-by-case basis.

CMS Principal Deputy Administrator, Jonathon Blum, cites the agency’s commitment to greater transparency and the benefits numerous stakeholders have identified that would result from an increase in the availability of information as reasons for the change in policy. Some benefits CMS hopes the policy will lead to include:

• Provider collaboration on improved care management and lower costs in the delivery of health care;
• Increased ability of consumers to gain broader and more reliable measures of provider quality and performance; and
• Increased ability for journalists, as well as the public at large, to identify waste, fraud, and abusive practices.

The impetus for the change in policy came in May 2013 after a federal judge in Florida vacated a 1979 injunction that prohibited the Department of Health and Human Services from disclosing certain Medicare claims data for physicians. After a balancing of the interests, the judge determined that the public interest superseded physician privacy. The Court found the law had significantly changed since the issuance of the 1979 injunction, namely that under the Privacy Act, the scope of available injunctive relief had been more narrowly construed.

Blum, acknowledging concerns over the integrity of the data, notes that CMS is committed to protecting physician privacy in addition to ensuring the accuracy of data released, as well as developing measures to protect the data from misuse. The agency considered 130 comments from over 300 organizations in coming to its decision. However, at this time, CMS has not provided any guidelines or criteria on how the agency will determine whether or not to release individual physician data.

Wachler & Associates will continue to monitor any further developments and provide guidance related to the new policy as the implementation date of March 18, 2014 is quickly approaching. If you or your health care entity has any questions relating to the new policy or any other health care law questions, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or at wapc@wachler.com.