New CMS Tool Facilitates Users' Access to Federal Health Data

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On Tuesday, CMS unveiled an online tool that allows researchers to access and manipulate the agency's health care data from a secure desktop computer, Modern Healthcare's "Vital Signs" reports.

Before the launch of the new online system, CMS would field individual data requests and then prepare and send back large, encrypted files to researchers.

The online system -- called the CMS Virtual Research Data Center -- provides access to a variety of federal data files, including Medicare Part A, B and D claims and the Medicare Provider Analysis and Review file.

Registration for the online system would cost a single researcher about $40,000 annually, which includes training and about 500 gigabytes of space.

In comparison, the physical delivery of a large sample of data under the old system could cost more than $100,000 over one year, according to CMS.

CMS added that the new online tool will:

  • Help eliminate long waits for data requests; and
  • Provide better access to up-to-date information (McKinney, "Vital Signs," Modern Healthcare, 11/12).

In a statement, CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said, "We're acutely aware of the huge potential that CMS data holds for creating a more efficient, higher quality health care system, and researchers play a large part in this transformation." She added, "By providing researchers with secure, timely and affordable access to CMS data, the agency is making it easier to do the important research that will lay the foundation for better quality and lower costs in the health care system" (Manos, Government Health IT, 11/13).

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