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DHHS Appeals Ruling Accessing Medicare Physician Claims Data

by Fred Fortin

I reported previously on a landmark case where a Washington D.C. federal judge ruled in favor of a consumer group that sued the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)to allow disclosure of specific data about doctors from the Medicare Claims database.The non-profit Consumers Checkbook filed the suit to allow access to the database so that consumers will be able to find out how many times their physician has performed a procedure that they may be facing. Federal rules now protect the privacy of this physician information.

I asked then whether any action — such as an appeal — would be in contrast to the Administration’s current transparency and value-based initiatives. I also took the opportunity at the time to pose the question to DHHS Secretary, Mike Leavitt on his new blog. No response.

Well it is now reported that DHHS has decided to appeal the ruling. DHHS spokesperson Kevin Schweers said that the department is “fully committed to making available as much Medicare data as allowable by law.” He added, “Unfortunately, in the case at hand, two federal courts interpret the law differently, and we’re caught in the middle until that dispute is settled. When that day does come, it’ll be a day too late as far as we’re concerned.”

A cryptic yet understandable response. I hope the public interest in this case stays alive as it travels through the justice system.

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