The Medicare Physician-Data Release — Context and Rationale

NEJM: July 10, 2014

On April 9, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released detailed information on utilization by more than 880,000 physicians and other health care providers who care for Medicare beneficiaries. This data release was unprecedented in its size and scope: it included nearly 10 million records accounting for more than $77 billion in Medicare payments. The data have been downloaded or accessed more than 300,000 times from the CMS website since their release. But because the release has also come in for some criticism, it may be helpful to clarify its context and rationale.

In one of his first acts in office, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum calling for more open, participatory, and collaborative government, and in May 2013, he issued an executive order mandating implementation of an open-data policy in all federal departments. We at CMS have embraced this directive and worked to identify information and data that could be made publicly available even as we maintain safeguards to protect the privacy of our beneficiaries. We believe that greater transparency in the health care system can drive improvement in health and contribute to the delivery of higher-quality care at lower cost and that CMS can play an important role in stimulating a vibrant health-data ecosystem. By making data files available as “raw material,” we aim to enable innovators and entrepreneurs to maximize the data’s value for a wide array of users. Read More