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WASHINGTON — Patients may soon get an unprecedented look at how their doctors compare to other physicians, after Medicare announced Wednesday that it plans to publicly post billing data for more than 880,000 practitioners.

The Medicare claims database has been off-limits to the public for decades, blocked in the courts by physician groups. The American Medical Association has argued that its release would amount to an invasion of doctors’ privacy.

Consumer groups, insurers, employers and the news media have sought the information to help them evaluate clinicians. On Wednesday, the Obama administration came down on the side of disclosure.

Medicare Deputy Administrator Jonathan Blum said in a letter to the AMA that the agency will post the data as early as next Wednesday.

Blum wrote that “the health-care system is changing from a system dominated by dearth of usable, actionable information to one where care coordination and dramatically enhanced data availability ... will power greater innovation, higher quality, increased productivity and lower costs.”

The AMA is concerned that the release will mislead people “and will result in unwarranted bias against physicians that can destroy careers,” the association’s president, Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven, said in a statement.

The AMA wants physicians to be allowed to review and correct their information before Medicare releases it, Hoven said. “Taking an approach that provides no assurances of accuracy of the data or explanations of its limitations will not allow patients to draw meaningful conclusions about the quality of care,” she said.

The Medicare billing files would usher in a new era of hard data. Doctors could be tracked and evaluated the same way that baseball players are — using statistics.

Supporters of disclosure say the information will help lead consumers to doctors who have the greatest expertise and who get the best results.




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