Senators join fight to open Medicare claims data

Two senators have joined the effort to open up the Medicare claims database that reveals what payments doctors get through the system.

Covering Health readers might remember that Dow Jones & Co. – parent company of The Wall Street Journalfiled a lawsuit in January in its attempt to overturn an injunction that “prevents the public from knowing how much taxpayer money individual doctors receive from the Medicare program,” according to a press release.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden from Oregon are pushing legislation to overturn the same 1979 injunction.

Neither senator, nor Dow Jones, seek the release of private patient data. The Medicare claims data has proven useful in fighting fraud and abuse in the system, allowing journalists or investigators to identify anomalies.

Grassley said “he was prompted in part” by articles in The Wall Street Journal about the Medicare database and fraud. Wyden, who spoke at Health Journalism 2009, said he plans to discuss joining forces with Grassley, saying, “I believe we can have a bipartisan bill on this.”

Preventing health care fraud was the subject of a Senate finance committee hearing on Wednesday, where Grassley and Wyden heard from the director of the Center for Program Integrity, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and from Daniel Levinson, inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Their statements, as well as video of the hearing, are available online.

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