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This week’s headline:

Release of physician payment data an attempt to increase transparency

After more than 30 years of holding Medicare physician payment information from the public, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released 2012 Medicare payment data for 880,000 physicians on April 9. CMS has stated that this information provides researchers, policymakers and the public with health care system transparency, particularly with regard to spending and physician practice patterns. View the CMS physician dataset.

The presidents of the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA), American College of Mohs Surgery (ACMS), the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery Association (ASDSA), the American Society of Dermatopathology (ASDP), and the American Society for Mohs Surgery (ASMS), issued a statement to members expressing their support for transparency that provides meaningful and reliable health care information for patients and timely, clinically relevant data to help physicians provide high-quality, high-value care. However, the groups expressed concern that the broad release of Medicare physician payment data, without appropriate context, could hinder patient understanding about the value of appropriate, medically necessary health care services as recommended by their physician.

Background and AADA advocacy
Last May, a federal judge lifted a 33-year-old injunction that prohibited CMS from releasing any payment information that could be used to identify individual physicians. Shortly thereafter, CMS asked stakeholders to comment on whether it should release physician payment information. In its comment letter, the AADA strongly opposed this proposal, and advocated for continued recognition of physicians’ right to privacy, expressed concerns over the accuracy of the data, and urged for inclusion of protections against inaccuracies, misinterpretations, and other potential harms. Read the AADA’s comment letter to CMS.

Earlier this year, CMS announced that it would consider Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for physician payment information, and would weigh privacy interests of individual physicians against the public interest when deciding whether to disclose the amounts that were paid to individual physicians under Medicare. However, given the significant administrative burden of considering individual FOIA requests, CMS instead released all of the physician payment information from 2012 to the public.

Next steps
The AADA encourages all members to review their information in the CMS physician dataset and prepare for questions from patients and members of the media about the data that will be released. It may not be clear what services and expenses the CMS data represents and members should be prepared to discuss the context of their individual practices, including all services provided, patient volume and mix of services, and the severity of illness of patient population.

For more information on this issue, contact James Scroggs at jscroggs@aad.org. If members are approached by the media for an interview, the AAD’s communications staff is available to assist. Send inquiries to mediarelations@aad.org, and keep an eye out for the Member to Member e-newsletter for more information on responding to media requests pertaining to this issue.

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