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Health care law will allow patients to compare options

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Consumers and employers will have the health care information they need to make more informed choices about their care, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced in a final rule.

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The rule gives qualified organizations, like employers and consumer groups, access to data that can help them identify high quality health care providers or create online tools to help consumers make educated health care choices.  Information that could identify specific patients, however, will not be publicly released and strong penalties will be in place for any misuse of data.

"This is a giant step forward in making our health care system more transparent and promoting increased competition, accountability, quality and lower costs," said Marilyn Tavenner, acting CMS administrator. "This provision of the health care law will ensure consumers have the access they deserve to information that will help them receive the highest quality care at the best value for their dollar."

For years, employers, consumers, and health care quality advocates have expressed frustration about the limited and piecemeal availability of Medicare data that could be used to help evaluate health care provider or supplier performance.  Although many health plans have created provider and supplier performance reports, these reports are based solely on the health plans' own claims, and do not reflect information from other health plans, including Medicare.

Providers, too, have expressed frustration at receiving performance reports that are piecemeal and produced without an opportunity for review and correction.  

The final rule makes a number of important changes from the original proposed rule. The final rule makes this data less costly for qualified entities, gives qualified organizations more flexibility in their use of Medicare data to create performance reports for consumers, and extends the time period for health care providers to confidentially review and appeal performance reports before they become public.  

The rule also includes strict privacy and security requirements to protect patients, health care providers, and suppliers as well as stringent penalties for any misuse of Medicare data.

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