Feel the fresh breeze? That’s from the Medicare database opening up and being exposed to public scrutiny.
A digital dumpster dive is in fast motion. We’re seeing a rush to dig into the federal government’s massive repository of medical provider data ever since Medicare announced it would make its provider database publicly available earlier this month.
A new era of transparency and accountability, the likes of which may have never been seen, is being opened up with surprising speed. Two more events happened this week to notch up the heat on suspect medical provides yet another notch.
First, CMS says it’s opening up non-encrypted Plan D data for easier outside scrutiny. That’s the prescription-drug arm of Medicare. CMS will expand access of unencrypted prescriber, plan and pharmacy identifiers to “researchers and other external entities.” Just who falls into these categories need clarifying, but the rub is that more people will gain more insights on docs who are spooning out suspiciously large quantities of prescriptions.
The latest move affects a large medical enterprise. Part D covers 37.5 million seniors and disabled patients. It pays for roughly 1 of every four prescriptions dolled out in the U.S., and costs taxpayers $62 billion in 2012, the journalist watchdog ProPublica says.
Then a second event happened just a week ago. ProPublica announced a new dive of its own into Medicare’s main database. More than 1,800 docs and other providers billed Medicare for the most expensive types of office visits at least 90 percent of the time in 2012, says ProPublica.
A Michigan doc allegedly charged the most complex and expensive office visits for virtually all of his 201 Medicare patients that year. He billed for an average of eight visits per patient.
Reporters around the U.S. have been prying open the database and writing about high-billing providers nationally or their regional circulation areas ever since Medicare’s original rule went public in early April. We welcome the added scrutiny that the Plan D database opening will bring.
The almost-giddy rush of exposing possible wrongdoing is all well and good. It’s a fresh news story, a new chance to make headlines. Let’s hope this is more than just another news cycle that disappears as soon as the next big news story rumbles into town.
Journalists and watchdogs will be challenged to keep the story alive, to keep mining Medicare for fresh insights that can expose and help weed out the dishonest actors who are gouging taxpayers. Consumers also need to know how their tax dollars are being spent.
And as I wrote in this space earlier, auto and homeowner insurers should dig into the data, including Plan D prescriptions. The same docs who are bilking Medicare may be milking these insurers as well. Insurers of all stripes might find useful fraud-related insights about specific docs and larger fraud trends that affect them.
So let’s work to keep this story alive and visible for a long time to come. And encourage insurers from public and private sectors to share findings that will increase the squeeze on cheating providers.