Caution Advised: Medicare’s Physician-Payment Data Release

NEJM: July 10, 2014

On April 9, 2014, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the release of privacy-protected data concerning services provided to beneficiaries enrolled in the fee-for-service Medicare program in 2012; the services were provided by individual physicians and other health care professionals.1,2 The release occurred 10 months after federal district court judge Marcia Morales Howard of the Middle District of Florida vacated a 33-year ban on the publication of such information in a legal victory for Real Time Medical Data and Dow Jones.3 In her opinion, Morales Howard stated that the legal principles on which the previous injunction was based could no longer be sustained, citing case law that had narrowed the scope of the Privacy Act over the intervening three decades.3 Medical professional organizations had opposed lifting the ban, in part because of concerns that the loss of members’ individual privacy rights could be harmful, especially if the data released were inaccurate and wrongfully created an aura of suspicious or inflated payments when none existed. Read More