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A step toward Medicare savings

– not altogether without reason – when President Barack Obama vowed to make major progress on domestic policy through his executive power alone. In at least one instance, Obama’s administration has shown it is possible to reform government significantly without a new act of Congress and without crossing constitutional boundaries.

We refer to the Department of Health and Human Services’ announcement that it will greatly expand public disclosure of doctor-specific data on Medicare payments. This will enable the public to know, in detail, what happens to the $70 billion-plus that the program spends on physician services each year. Previously, such data had been off-limits due to supposed doctor privacy concerns.

Under the new rule, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services will begin posting a data set on the types of medical services furnished by individual providers, along with the charges submitted for each. Individual patients will not be identified. “Release of physician-identifiable payment information will serve a significant public interest by increasing transparency of Medicare,” CMS Principal Deputy Administrator Jonathan Blum noted.

Taxpayers should reap considerable savings, once journalists and others start mining the data for patterns of questionable billing. Indeed, the very existence of this powerful new form of public scrutiny could be a powerful deterrent against waste and abuse.