The AMA also suggested that many of the billing codes, which identify the types of medical services provided, were significantly under-counted in the release of 2012 Medicare reimbursements, when compared with the actual uses of those services.
Last month's data release, which the AMA had long opposed, detailed $77 billion of reimbursements to 880,000 doctors and other providers by the government's health insurance program for tens of millions of Americans ages 65 and older.
"In our view, the lesson to be learned from the release of raw 2012 physician-specific Medicare claims information is twofold; it requires not only access to data, but understanding the scope, exclusions, and limitations of the information," AMA CEO Dr. James Madara wrote in a letter laying out the allegations to Marilyn Tavenner, administrator for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
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"Without this context, conclusions and analyses are likely to be wrong," Madara wrote. "A continued focus on publication of raw claims data would only stand in the way of true transparency efforts."
Madara called on CMS to hold off on any plans to release Medicare claims data from past years because of the risk of compounding the damage from missing information. He demanded that doctors be allowed to "correct and explain their data," and said that the government should issue "conspicuous" warnings of the data's limitations.
The AMA boss also urged CMS to focus on creating and releasing "a more selective data set that could help patients and physicians make better care choices."
CMS received the letter, but had no comment Thursday when asked about it.
Decades of opposing release
The AMA for decades had opposed the release of data identifying how much individual physicians and other providers are reimbursed by Medicare. In fact, the AMA in 1979 obtained a federal court injunction barring the release of such information, on physician privacy grounds.
But that injunction was overturned in 2013, and on April 9, the reimbursement data from 2012 was released by CMS.
Initial news stories focused on the fact that a tiny percentage of doctors accounted for nearly 25 percent of Medicare reimbursements for that year, and highlighted some of those individual big earners, including the biggest, a South Florida physician who had received $21 million in payments.
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