Congress Puts Medicare Transparency on Back Burner

On March 31, Congress once again kicked the can down the road by passing its 17th temporary patch to Medicare's reimbursement rate. This one-year extension does not include a crucial transparency reform, proposed in previous Medicare bills this session, which would have required the release of Medicare's physician payment data. This missed opportunity means Medicare, one of the largest government programs, will continue to receive less oversight and accountability than other areas of federal spending.

The previous extension was set to expire on March 31, leading Congress to pass this stopgap measure only hours away from the deadline. But this new bill only extends Medicare spending and leaves important data transparency reforms by the wayside. The earlier Medicare bills, which Congress abandoned, included additional provisions that would have required physician reimbursement data, previously kept largely confidential, to be published in an electronic, searchable format. Both the House-passed H.R. 4015 and the Senate committee-approved S. 1871 included this transparency reform.

The sponsor of S. 1871, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), rightly noted yesterday that access to this information would allow consumers to "finally be able to compare what Medicare pays for particular services," as well as "help us hold down health care costs, improve the quality of care, [and] be a tool in fighting fraud." However, due to disagreement on other provisions of the package, Congress was unable to negotiate an agreement before reaching the previous extension's deadline and instead resorted to a temporary extension while leaving the other provisions – including payment transparency – on the table.

As we have said before, data transparency is a critical tool for improving patient outcomes, enhancing physician collaboration, and preventing abuse and waste. Despite this delay, we hope that Congress will take up this important, bipartisan issue in the near future.

Gavin Baker contributed to this article.

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