Medicare Part D data could be the latest data dump courtesy of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Niall Brennan, director of the Office of Information Products and Data Analytics at CMS, has been at the helm of the recent releases of the hospital charge data as well as the controversial Medicare payment data release in April. Politico recently quoted Brennan talking about future plans: "There are a number of ways we can proceed," he said. "We could look at the prescription drug area, for example."
This appears to be the way CMS is headed. In a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Brennan, as well as Marilyn Tavenner and CMS Deputy Administrator, Patrick Conway, defended the release of the Medicare payment data, and also wrote:
"CMS is committed to producing and releasing high-quality data that permit as many users as possible to better understand the Medicare program. The physician data release is part of a broader strategy of data transparency, and we plan to continue to release additional data in the future. We believe that transparency will drive health system improvement."
In a video previewing the recent "Health Datapalooza," Brennan noted that "CMS is passionate about open data." Among the accomplishments of the agency, he stated: "We released hospital data…finally piercing the veil of what hospitals charge for common services." That data, released on June 2, includes information on the 100 most common Medicare inpatient hospital stays for 3,400 U.S. hospitals. In the first week, that data was downloaded more than 200,000 times, Brennan said.
"What we really to do now is for data entrepreneurs to take that data and combine it with other data and build it into tools that will give people more information on how healthcare is provided in their area." CMS is also offering a synthetic public use file to allow "data entrepreneurs" to gain familiarity using Medicare claims data while protecting beneficiary privacy. "When they finally get access to real CMS data," Brennan states, "they will be ready to go, and won't have that learning curve."
Last year, ProPublica published Medicare Part D prescriber data using five years of Part D data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. They created a tool called "Prescriber Checkup" that allows users to compare physicians' prescribing patterns to those of others in their specialties and states. Propublica notes that Part D covers 37.5 million seniors and disabled patients and pays for roughly one in every four prescriptions dispensed in the country. Part D cost taxpayers $62 billion in 2012. Critics have complained that since Part D took effect in 2006, Medicare has placed a higher priority on getting prescriptions into patients' hands than on targeting problem prescribers.
If CMS does indeed release Part D information, by year's end the public will have access to a startling amount of data about individual doctors:
- Medicare Payment Data
- Prescribing Information for Part D
- All transfers of value from industry, from the Physician Payments Sunshine Act.