In a major win for transparency, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced on April 2 that it will release physician reimbursement data. This data, previously kept confidential, contains information about how much the federal government pays to most Medicare providers. The data will not compromise or disclose any patient privacy information.

This data offers unique insight into one of the federal government’s largest and most significant programs. Access to this information will provide patients with comparative data, physicians with information to improve health outcomes, and can act as deterrent to fraud and waste.

The agency explained that it is compelled to post the information due to repeated requests for the data under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Under FOIA, agencies are required to electronically post records that the agency anticipates will be repeatedly requested. The idea is to proactively disclose the information and save requesters and agency personnel from repeatedly processing the same request.

The agency hasn’t yet described exactly what data will be available, when it will be made available, or how it will be accessed. Nevertheless, this announcement represents an important development for data transparency. Coming just days after Congress failed to deal with the issue, it’s a big and welcome step toward bringing greater sunlight to this vital program.

Gavin Baker contributed to this article.

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