Government releases Medicare data trove

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- As the cost of healthcare continues to soar, the federal government released an unprecedented amount of data Wednesday regarding the cost of Medicare.

Data released includes the services and procedures that individual doctors provided to Medicare patients in 2012, what they billed the government and how much they were ultimately paid.

"I think this is a huge step forward," said Jean Abraham, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota who is already discussing research possibilities with her team. "It will shine some light on how many resources we're using and what the cost of healthcare is."

One of the top doctors for Medicare reimbursements in the country is here in Minnesota. The Mayo Clinic's Doctor Franklin Cockerill received $11,068,463 for lab services in 2012. But a Mayo spokesperson says Dr. Cockerill is the head of pathology and was listed as the billing physician for tens of thousands of analyses performed by Mayo personnel which highlights the potential to misinterpret the data.

Some watchdog groups believe the government has ulterior motives for this transparency.

"I think this is just meant to scare doctors into changing their treatment," said Twila Brase with the Citizens' Council for Health Freedom. "I think they want assistance from lawyers, I think they want assistance from just the fear of God this could put into doctors."

Brase worries that more doctors may decide to stop accepting Medicare and stick with private insurers where this data remains confidential.

The data released Wednesday is currently in raw form, on a massive series of spreadsheets. The plan is to make it available online in a more user-friendly format.

One potential benefit for patients is data on how many specific procedures each doctor completed in a given year -- at least the ones run through Medicare -- which could help patients make better care decisions.


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