CMS has released its highly-anticipated data files with Medicare payment data for individual Medicare physicians and certain other Part B suppliers as part of the Obama Administration’s initiative “to make our healthcare system more transparent, affordable, and accountable.” Specifically, the “Physician and Other Supplier Public Use File” contains information on utilization, payment (allowed amount and Medicare payment), and submitted charges organized by National Provider Identifier (NPI)/provider last name, Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) code, and place of service for physician/supplier Part B non-institutional line items for the Medicare fee-for-service population for calendar year 2012. The files include data on services furnished by physicians, non-physician practitioners, laboratories, imaging, and ambulances, but not durable medical equipment (DME). To protect Medicare beneficiary privacy, any aggregated records derived from 10 or fewer beneficiaries are excluded from the dataset.

CMS cautions that the dataset has a number of limitations, including that the data may not be representative of a physician’s entire practice since it only includes information regarding Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries. Moreover, CMS notes that the data are not intended to indicate the quality of care provided and are not risk-adjusted to reflect differences in the severity of disease of patient populations.  In an accompanying blog post, Jonathan Blum, Principal Deputy Administrator of CMS, notes that the agency hopes that “businesses and consumers alike can use these data to drive decision-making and reward quality, cost-effective care.”