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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Data trove shows U.S. doctors reap millions from Medicare

A patient waits in the hallway for a room to open up inside the emergency room at Ben Taub General Hospital in Houston, Texas July 27, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

NEW YORK (Reuters) - In 2012, an enterprising ophthalmologist in south Florida received $20.8 million in Medicare payments, the highest amount the government health plan for the elderly paid an individual provider that year, according to a preliminary analysis of federal data.

A family-practice doctor in Maryland may have received an average of more than $86,000 per patient that year, according to a Reuters review of the data. And a California laboratory apparently received $190 million, the most Medicare paid a single entity in 2012.

After decades of litigation and over the strenuous objections of the American Medical Association, the leading U.S. doctors group, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on Wednesday made public for the first time how much Medicare pays individual doctors.

The massive data release, totaling nearly 10 million lines, also includes which medical services each of more than 880,000 physicians and other healthcare providers nationwide billed Medicare for in 2012.

"While the data are not perfect, this is a major milestone in healthcare transparency," said cancer surgeon Marty Makary of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, whose 2012 book, "Unaccountable," argues for making public more information on doctors and hospitals.

In addition to allowing patients to see which doctors perform a particular procedure most frequently - often a proxy for expertise in rare and difficult surgeries such as colon operations - the...

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