During a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pushed for legislation that would overturn a 1979 court injunction blocking public access to data on the amount that individual physicians receive in Medicare reimbursements, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The court injunction stems from a lawsuit that the American Medical Association and the Florida Medical Association filed to prevent former President Jimmy Carter's administration from publishing a list of annual Medicare reimbursements.
The injunction, which has remained in effect since the 1979 ruling, bars the government from providing public access to a federal database of Medicare claims. The database is considered a crucial tool for rooting out Medicare fraud, according to the Journal.
The issue came under more scrutiny in January, when Dow Jones -- publisher of the Journal -- filed a lawsuit seeking public access to the Medicare claims database.
Grassley said his proposed legislation would open the Medicare database to the public as part of an effort "to make government transparent, because with transparency there comes accountability." He added that the database also would aid in fraud-fighting initiatives (Tamman/Schoofs, Wall Street Journal, 3/3).
Wyden said public access to the database "could create a very substantial disincentive for some of these multi-million dollar rip-offs" (Pecquet, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 3/2).
Both Grassley and Wyden said they are not seeking the release of patient-specific data, adding that they support patient privacy protections.
Federal Officials, AMA Respond
During the Finance Committee hearing, HHS and CMS officials declined to offer their support for providing public access to the Medicare claims database.
Peter Budetti, who oversees CMS' antifraud efforts, said, "The concept (of making the database public) has a lot of ramifications." Budetti said he would report back on the issue (Wall Street Journal, 3/3).
The American Medical Association opposes the opening of the Medicare database, saying it would violate physicians' privacy and compel some doctors to leave Medicare.
AMA President Cecil Wilson said that "studies have demonstrated that physicians are not a significant source of Medicare fraud" ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 3/2).