HHS Releases Data Sets for Researchers, Consumers to Understand Medicare Costs

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By Kendra Casey Plank

The Department of Health and Human Services June 3 released new data resources for researchers, including, for the first time, data sets with county-level Medicare spending and utilization information.

The newly released data sets also include certain information from hospital outpatient charges.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the new data availability at Health Datapalooza IV, a national conference on health data transparency.

The data sets also are being made available to consumers.

“A more data driven and transparent health care marketplace can help consumers and their families make important decisions about their care,” Sebelius said. “The administration is committed to making the health system more transparent and harnessing data to empower consumers.”

In addition to the now-available data on Medicare utilization rates and spending at county levels, the newly released data sets include one with data on Medicare beneficiaries with chronic diseases, also at the county level.

HHS said in a release that the information would help researchers and consumers better understand Medicare spending and also improve program transparency.

The county-level data will be available in a state-level dashboard format, allowing users of “any skill level” to easily access and understand the information, HHS said.

Hospital Data

The hospital outpatient data set, also released at the Health Datapalooza conference, includes estimates of average charges for 30 common hospital outpatient procedures, including clinic visits, echocardiograms, and endoscopies, HHS said.

The release of the outpatient information comes a month after CMS released similar information about the 100 most common inpatient procedures. The data released in early May showed a wide variation in charges for inpatient services across the country.

New Apps Challenges

Also at Health Datapalooza, HHS agencies launched new apps challenges.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT--in partnership with the Health Data Consortium, a nonprofit group of industry and government organizations, and cloud software vendor Socrata, will award $25,000 in prices to developers who create a software application or other tool using Medicare data that will help primary care physicians manage patient care.

ONC also launched at the conference the Blue Button Co-Design Challenge, meant to spur innovation in the area of apps that will help consumers manage their own care.

Information about CMS databases is available at http://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems.html.

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