A few months ago, the two of us – both long-time advocates for
transparency and accountability – posted separate comments on Secretary
Mike Leavitt’s blog. Brian asked Secretary Leavitt to square his
support of "Chartered Value Exchanges” with the attempt to block
release of physician-specific Medicare claims data to Consumers’
Checkbook, which wants to rate doctors. After a court ruled that the
data should be provided to the group, HHS appealed. Michael urged the
secretary to go beyond supporting Consumers’ Checkbook and use his
“bully pulpit” to promote sophisticated data analysis that could be
used to create national quality comparisons.
Secretary Leavitt graciously asked us to consider and comment on the
department’s proposed "Medicare trigger legislation" calling for the
release of physician performance measures. We are delighted to continue
First, let’s give credit where credit is due. We agree that the proposed legislation is a major step in the right direction.
Yet the legislation’s intent seems at odds with the department’s turn-back-the-clock arguments in Consumers’ Checkbook vs. HHS. There, the department asserts that physicians have a right to privacy, and that the quality of medical care they provide in return for taxpayer dollars does not have to be disclosed — despite its importance to consumers and other purchasers of care. Interestingly, this privacy is a privilege hospitals do not enjoy.
In a December 10, 2007 American Medical News article (since revised), the American Medical Association’s board chair gloated that HHS had taken the AMA’s “advice” in appealing the original August 22, 2007 District Court ruling for Consumers’ Checkbook. Moreover, as the Los Angeles Times pointed out, while the department proclaims in press releases that it simply wants legal clarification on its authority to release the physician data,
the government’s legal brief in the case calls for the appeals court to reverse [the August] ruling, leaving the restrictions on the release of data in place.
This is not a partisan issue. Most objective health care experts across the political spectrum believe that transparent pricing and quality information is critical to transforming the current crisis-ridden system into one that is stable and sustainable. Without the kind of information sought by Consumers’ Checkbook, a health care marketplace simply cannot function. President Bush virtually said as much in his August, 2006 executive order.
HHS has said it “recognizes and shares the goals of Consumers’ Checkbook.” If that is so, HHS should match words with deeds. That means dropping its appeal of the Checkbook ruling and challenging purchasers, health plans and individual consumers to use the marketplace to reward doctors and others who provide or contribute to safer, higher quality, more efficient care.
Brian R. Klepper, PhD Michael L. MillensonHealthcare Performance, Inc. Health Quality Advisors LLCAtlantic Beach, FL Highland Park, IL904.246.9643 firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com