Effort to make Medicare data public advances

The Dow Jones Company’s efforts to make Medicare data public took a step forward yesterday with a U.S. magistrate recommending [PDF] that the 30-year-old case barring access to the data be reopened and its motion to intervene in the case be granted in U.S. district court.

Dow Jones filed  a motion to intervene [PDF] in January in its attempt to have the courts overturn a 30-year-old injunction that blocks release of the data, which individually identifies medical providers. The case was placed in the court’s electronic system but its status was “closed.” The company filed an unopposed motion in February to reopen the case. Magistrate  Monte C. Richardson recommended that U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard grant the motions.

The injunction is the result of a 1979 lawsuit brought by the American Medical Association, which objects to the release of data that includes how much money individual doctors receive from Medicare.

Wall Street Journal reporters, who negotiated for eight years worth of data if they did not publish identities, wrote a series of stories about Medicare data, showing that the federal government isn’t taking advantage of the data it has to detect fraud.

The board of directors of the Association of Health Care Journalists  released this statement when the suit was filed in January:

AHCJ strongly supports the release of Medicare payment data that can help journalists better cover both the quality of care provided to patients and the finances of this critical government program. Publicly available information should include physician names connected to these payments. We see little reason why information on payments to doctors should be subjected to greater secrecy than payments to hospitals and nursing homes. The Wall Street Journal’s coverage demonstrates that data linked to doctors would help inform the public and likely would expose fraud and abuse in the program.


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