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APRIL 11, 2014 – Davis Wright Tremaine LLP congratulates its client, Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal, in its successful effort to obtain data on individual physician Medicare payments from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The release of the data resulted in front-page stories this week in the Journal and other newspapers around the country.
These stories are a direct result of the 3-year successful struggle by Dow Jones to vacate a 34-year-old nationwide blanket injunction that the American Medical Association had obtained that prohibited the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from releasing information on what individual doctors receive under the $77 billion program. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida finally vacated that order last year.
The details of that legal effort were described in the June 2013 issue of DWT’s MediaLaw Monitor.
After the injunction was vacated, the struggle turned to the administrative process. Dow Jones submitted extensive comments to HHS through DWT last September, arguing that “the public interest in disclosure clearly out¬weighs physicians’ privacy interests in how much public money they receive under what is one of our most vital and expensive federal programs.”
Last week, HHS announced that it agreed with this position and would publicly release a data set on the types of medical services and procedures furnished by physicians and other health care professionals, as well as certain payment and charge data related to those services.
As noted by HHS, the Wall Street Journal’s Pulitzer finalist series in 2010, Secrets of the System, based on 5 percent of the data acquired, and subject to restrictions on identification of individual doctors due to the then-extant injunction, documented the data’s potential for revealing vital information. This week’s stories, which showed that a small number of doctors account for a large share of Medicare payments, further confirm that potential. The unprecedented detail and value of the data now available to the public can hardly be overstated – researchers will be able to use the information in countless ways to improve the system, and consumers will be able to use it to help make decisions about their own care.
“We are pleased that after 34 years under wraps this critical data has now been made public,” said Laura Handman, a partner in Davis Wright Tremaine’s Washington, D.C. office, who is the lead attorney on the matter. Other DWT attorneys who have worked closely with Handman on the matter are Rory Eastburg (now with NBC Universal), Adam Greene, and Ronnie London.
About Davis Wright Tremaine
Davis Wright Tremaine LLP is a national law firm with approximately 500 lawyers representing clients based throughout the United States and around the world. The firm’s media and First Amendment team is widely recognized as one of the leading groups in the country. The team received the 2013 Chambers USA Award for Excellence, was named 2014 Law Firm of the Year in First Amendment Litigation by Best Lawyers, and was recently named Law Firm of the Year by The Association of Media and Entertainment Counsel. For more information, visit www.dwt.com.