Physician Leaders Split Over Making Medicare Payment Data Public

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ACPE Poll Finds Doctors are Evenly Divided over whether Public Should Have Access to Reimbursement Information

Making health care data available to the public is becoming an increasingly important government priority. But should that transparency also extend to the payments physicians receive from Medicare?

It’s a question that provokes deeply divided opinions among the physician leadership community, according to a new poll conducted by the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE). When asked if they thought data about Medicare payments to physicians should be made public, the response was almost evenly split, with 46 percent of responding ACPE members saying no and 42 percent saying yes. An additional 12 percent were unsure.

The question was prompted by a federal court judge’s decision to overturn a longstanding injunction that prevented the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) from releasing information about payments to individual physicians (Case No. 78-178-Civ-J-S, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division). 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.

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 Kenneth Maxwell, MD, from Winston Salem, NC. “Publishing the amount of Medicare reimbursement without some form of normative information provides no useful information for consumers.”

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,” said James C. Salwitz, MD, from New Brunswick, NJ.

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 health care 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, GA. “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, WA. “I just can't understand that attitude.”

Peter Angood, MD, ACPE’s CEO, said the nearly even split in opinion suggests CMS was wise to ask the physician community for feedback, and should spend some time deliberating over the responses before making any decisions.

“No matter what your opinion on this subject may be, there’s no doubt the move toward greater transparency in medicine and increased public reporting is here to stay – and we believe it is necessary,” said Angood. “Part of our job as physician leaders is to help ensure that when health care data is presented to the public, it is accurate, fair, meaningful and useful.”

For complete poll results, go to acpe.org.

About ACPE:
ACPE is the nation's largest health care organization for physician leaders. Since its founding in 1975, its primary focus is to provide superior leadership and management skills to physicians of all types and encouraging them to assume more active leadership roles in the health care industry. The organization represents more than 11,000 members from more than 45 different countries.

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Carrie Johnson
American College of Physician Executives
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