The Obama administration announced on Wednesday that it plans to release previously undisclosed data on how much Medicare pays individual physicians sometime next week. Doctors' advocacy groups have fought to keep payment information private for decades, but in a letter to the American Medical Association, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services wrote it's required to release the information under the Freedom of Information Act. The "privacy interests of physicians" didn't outweigh "the public's interest in shedding light on Government activities." The American Medical Association isn't so sure of that.
The Medicare agency is expected to release data on how $77 billion was spent, covering 880,000 healthcare professionals who billed the program for 6,000 types of services sometime after April 9, according to The New York Times. Doctors see this as a lose-lose situation for everyone involved. “The AMA is concerned that CMS’ broad approach to releasing physician payment data will mislead the public into making inappropriate and potentially harmful treatment decisions and will result in unwarranted bias against physicians that can destroy careers,” Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven, the American Medical Association, said in a statement. One argument doctors groups have used to fight this is concerns over privacy — the Wall Street Journal notes that physician names and addresses will be included in the release.
The administration believes this will help consumers compare prices. "Businesses and consumers alike can use these data to drive decision-making and reward quality, cost-effective care,” the Medicare agency's deputy admin Jonathan Blum wrote, according to Bloomberg. Last year the Medicare agency released data on how much hospitals charge Medicare for the services, and it revealed "staggering" price differences between places in the same area. Doctors don't want to go through the same thing.