As part of its ongoing efforts to make Medicare data more transparent and accessible, CMS has ended its blanket restriction on disclosure of information about Medicare payments to individual physicians when requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).   Instead, CMS will now consider on a case-by-case basis whether exemption 6 of FOIA, which requires CMS to balance the privacy interest of individual physicians against the public interest in disclosure of such information, applies to a given request for information pertaining to Medicare payments to individual physicians.  CMS notes that since “the outcome of the balancing test will depend on the circumstances, the outcomes of these analyses may vary depending on the facts of each case.” In a blog post, CMS contends that potential benefits associated with release of such information could include:

  • Allowing providers to collaborate on improved health care management and delivery at lower costs;
  • Giving consumers broader, more reliable measures of provider quality and performance to drive innovation and competition while informing consumer choice; and
  • Enabling journalists and others to identify waste, fraud, abuse, and unsafe practices.

In addition to reiterating its commitment to protecting the privacy of Medicare beneficiaries, CMS states that it intends “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.”  The official version of the notice will be published on January 17.