The WSJ and the Medicare data
Erik Wemple of The Washington Post writes about the role of The Wall Street Journal in obtaining the release of data about how much Medicare was paying doctors across the country.
Wemple writes, “Colleen Schwartz, a spokeswoman for Dow Jones & Co., tells the Erik Wemple Blog, ‘If it weren’t for the Journal’s efforts to overturn the injunction, the public would not have this information.’
“Injunction? Indeed: Settle in for a wild government-records story, one that dates back to the time that the Department of Health & Human Services was known as the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). In March 1977, HEW helped out the public by releasing information identifying physicians that had received Medicare reimbursements of $100,000. The department was getting ready to make public more data about Medicare when the Florida Medical Association and some physicians sued to stop the release of information. They prevailed: In October 1979, federal Judge Charles R. Scott issued a permanent injunction against disclosing ‘any list of annual Medicare reimbursement amounts, for any years, which would personally and individually identify those providers of services under the Medicare program who are members of the recertified class in this case.’
“And for the most part, there the matter stood for decades. In 2009, the Wall Street Journal, along with the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) began trying to chip away at the records denial, as outlined in this court document. Following the submission of a Freedom of Information Act request by CPI, the parties reached a settlement with HHS to access something called the ‘Carrier Standard Analytic File,’ essentially a bunch of Medicare data that hadn’t ever seen sunlight. The Wall Street Journal used the information as the basis for a celebrated 2010 series on Medicare; it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, which commended the publication for ‘its penetration of the shadowy world of fraud and abuse in Medicare, probing previously concealed government databases to identify millions of dollars in waste and corrupt practices.’
“The Wall Street Journal wasn’t done, however. In January 2011, Dow Jones filed suit to kill the entire injunction, the better to open access to the whole trove of Medicare reimbursement data. It pushed the clear public interest in the disclosure, noting that Medicare ‘has grown twenty-fold in nominal dollars, and nearly three-fold as a percentage of the total federal budget’ since the 1979 injunction. The May 2013 ruling in the case read in part, ‘Intervenor Dow Jones & Company, Inc.’s Motion to Vacate Permanent Injunction (Doc. 56) is GRANTED.’”
Read more here.