Jan. 14—Medicare officials said they plan to begin releasing details of what the program pays physicians in a couple months.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will begin releasing information on payments to individual physicians upon request and will publish aggregate data sets about physician pay.

The planned payment data release followed a 2013 federal judge’s decision to strike down a decades-old ban on releasing Medicare physician data due to privacy concerns. The judge ruled privacy concerns were secondary to the public interest of disclosing payment data. Such data could fuel examinations of Medicare waste and fraud.

HHS officials said the disclosures would come through individual Freedom of Information Act requests for physician pay data. The agency plans to use a “balancing test” to determine which information should be released, according to a final rule detailing how the disclosures will occur.

“As [the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)] makes a determination about how and when to disclose any information on a physician’s Medicare payment, we intend to consider the importance of protecting physicians’ privacy and ensuring the accuracy of any data released as well as appropriate protections to limit potential misuse of the information,” Johnathan Blum, deputy administrator of CMS, said in a Tuesday blog post.

The new policy came on the heels of other CMS efforts to increase public access to health data through www.healthdata.gov, which include newly available statistics on Medicare spending, utilization, and quality.

In May 2013, CMS released information on the average charges for the 100 most common inpatient services at more than 3,000 hospitals nationwide.

In June 2013, CMS released average charges for 30 selected outpatient procedures.

Publication Date: Tuesday, January 14, 2014