Docs split over public Medicare data

Some say fighting to keep the information private will make physicians appear overly secretive

A new poll conducted by the American College of Physician Executives has found that doctors are almost evenly divided on whether or not Medicare payment data should be made public.

Forty-six percent of responding ACPE members said the data should not be made public, while 42 percent said it should. An additional 12 percent were unsure.

According to ACPE, the survey was prompted by a federal court judge’s decision to overturn a longstanding injunction that prevented the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from releasing information about payments to individual physicians.

CMS is currently soliciting feedback on whether physicians have a right to privacy regarding the reimbursement information and if that privacy interest outweighs the benefit to the public.  

The poll was delivered via email to ACPE members and 588 responded. Participants were also invited to share their comments on the topic, according to an Aug. 28 news release.

Those who favored keeping the information private said the data is too easily misinterpreted by the public and could be used to portray physicians in a negative and unfair light.

"What purpose does this action serve?" wrote respondent Kenneth Maxwell, MD, from Winston-Salem, N.C. "Publishing the amount of Medicare reimbursement without some form of normative information provides no useful information for consumers."

[See also: North Carolina pushes price transparency.]

Several physicians went on to add that reimbursement is complicated by a number of factors, including geographical location, the type of procedure performed and the cost of medication. They say the time and effort it would take to translate the data might be better spent on other resources.

"This is not a form of transparency that will benefit budgeting, planning or patient care," added James C. Salwitz, MD, from New Brunswick, N.J.

Those who disagreed argued the public has a right to know how their taxpayer dollars are being spent. As consumers continue to demand increased access to healthcare data, the move to greater transparency will only grow stronger. It doesn’t make sense to fight it, they say.

"We live in an information age," wrote Daniel McDevitt, MD, FACS, from Atlanta. "We should be able to look up online where our money is going at all times."

Others said fighting to keep the information private will make physicians appear overly secretive.

"It gives an appearance of having something to hide and thus reduces public trust in our profession," said Paul Buehrens, MD, from Seattle. "I just can't understand that attitude."

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