Judge recommends in favor of Dow Jones in Medicare records case
TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
A U.S. magistrate in Florida recommended in favor of Dow Jones & Co.‘s plea to reopen and intervene in a 32-year-old case that closed Medicare records from the media, saying the previous rationale for blocking access to the data might be “outdated.”
Dow Jones, the parent of The Wall Street Journal, sued in January in an attempt to open the records. The paper has published a series of articles called “Secrets of the System” about abuses of the Medicare system. The articles were based on computerized Medicare records that represent part of the broader database.
But the paper has been prevented from reporting more about its findings because of an injunction.
Monte Richardson, the magistrate in Jacksonville, Fla., who heard Dow Jones’ motion to reopen the case, wrote in his Wednesday ruling that, “Dow Jones represents the interests of a nationwide media organization, seeking to establish its rights to purchase Medicare information from HHS via contract, as well as to obtain Medicare data by means of a FOIA request.”
The American Medical Association, the doctors’ trade group, successfully sued the government in 1979 to keep secret how much money individual doctors receive from Medicare.
Richardson’s recommendation, however, notes, “Now that Medicare fees are set by Congress and are public information, disclosure of the requested data no longer exposes an individual doctor’s ‘discretionary’ billing practices to public scrutiny, or to comparison by competitors. Additionally, today, the majority of physicians practice as corporate or business entities which, as a matter of law, have no privacy interest in the requested Medicare data.”
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