CMS announced this week that it is modifying its longstanding policy regarding the release of Medicare physician payment data in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Since 1980, CMS’ policy has been that, for privacy reasons, it would not release Medicare payment data specific to individual physicians. However, according to a pronouncement in the Federal Register, CMS is now taking the position that it will evaluate FIOA requests on a case by case basis.
The 1980 policy was based on several court cases which found that physicians had a compelling privacy interest in their Medicare payment data. However, in May of 2013, a US District Court vacated one of those opinions and CMS subsequently sought public comment on whether a change in its policy was warranted. Under the revised policy, CMS will make case-by-case determinations as to whether “exemption 6” of the FOIA applies to a given request for Medicare payment data with respect to individual physicians. Exemption 6 requires CMS to weigh the individual physician’s privacy interest in such data against the public interest in disclosure of the data.