In a major win for transparency, the federal government will regularly release hard-won data about billions of dollars in Medicare payments to doctors, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has announced.
Dow Jones & Co. successfully sued for the records last year, examining data that had remained cloaked since a 1979 injunction. These records proved a treasure trove, as the Wall Street Journal reports:
The data provided the first comprehensive look at a central part of the taxpayer-funded program for the elderly and disabled. It detailed payments to 880,000 individuals and organizations totaling more than $77 billion from the Medicare program in 2012, covering more than 5,000 different procedures. . . .
Over the past year, the Journal has published a series of front-page articles illustrating how the Medicare data can spotlight potential fraud, waste and abuse.
A Journal article in June, for example, looked at physicians with high billing levels—including a urologist who collected nearly $1 million for a rarely used bladder procedure. The urologist said he acted in his patients’ best interest.
The article moved Dr. John Libertino, chairman of the Institute of Urology and CEO Emeritus of the Lahey Clinic, and a colleague to alert the American Board of Urology to conspicuous billing outliers in their specialty.
The board agreed to a review, Dr. Libertino said, and indicated it would take action against some doctors.
The American Medical Association opposes the release of this data, claiming it violates doctors’ privacy. And the federal government, apparently afflicted with xeroderma pigmentosum, has been equally reluctant to divulge. But the massive flow of public funds merits disclosure, and added sunlight helps protect against waste, fraud and abuse.
As the Wall Street Journal notes in its celebratory article, “the first batch of data had been downloaded or accessed more than 300,000 times online in the weeks after its release.”
Victories like this one have been few and far between under President Obama, despite preposterous claims that he presides over the most transparent administration ever. Bravo to Dow Jones for forcing this issue, and we look forward to the next installment of Medicare data soon.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.