A federal court of appeals has reversed a lower court ruling that granted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Consumers' Checkbook, Center for the Study of Services (CSS). CSS had submitted the FOIA request to the Department of Health & Human Services seeking access to all Medicare claims submitted by physicians in several localities during 2004.

The appeals court ruled that physicians have a substantial privacy interest in data regarding the total payments they receive from Medicare. This privacy interest was not outweighed by a public interest in the data. An exemption to FOIA, which provides that FOIA does not apply to "personnel and medical files. . .the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," thus applied.

The court specifically rejected as unproven CSS's assumption that the frequency with which a physician performs a procedure indicates the quality of the procedure.

Read the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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Publication Date: Thursday, March 12, 2009