Continuing its movement toward greater transparency, CMS has released the mother of data dumps – information on the more than 880,000 distinct healthcare providers who raked in $77 million in Medicare Part B payments in 2012. While a number of stakeholders are panning the release as being so unwieldy as to be useless for anyone lacking a PhD in statistics, the physician community that fought and lost a protracted legal battle to keep the data under wraps is highly critical, saying users lack the full context, such as the costs providers incur to deliver such services.

The data identifies providers by their National Provider Idnetifier or NPI and excludes those who delivered 10 or fewer units of a service. Internal medicine topped the list of the 10 specialties with the highest aggregate Medicare payments, and oncology accounted for three of the top 5 specialties with the highest Medicare-allowed amount per-physician. CMS did note that these and other specialties, including rheumatology and ophthalmology, often involve the use of office-administered drugs that are paid under Part B and whose costs would factor into the payments, a point leveled by provider critics against the data release.

News outlets have been digging into the data to show, among other things, regional disparities in Medicare spending as well as providers who stand out as outliers for their prolific billings or who use costly drugs when less-expensive alternatives are available. It’s probably a safe bet that news reporters - particularly those savy enough to make sense of the data – will continue to dig in and publish pieces, particularly on providers whose billing habits stand out, meaning providers need to be ready to face questions and scrutiny going forward.