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Employers Request That White House Disclose Quality of Health Care Data

By Robert Pear
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

The White House is clashing with the nation’s largest employers over their request for huge amounts of government data on the cost and quality of health care provided by doctors around the country.

President Bush has repeatedly urged private insurers to disclose such data, saying it will help consumers choose doctors and hospitals. But Medicare, the nation’s largest insurer, has turned down a request for its data from the Business Roundtable, whose member companies provide coverage to more than 25 million people.

Employers want to use the data to compare and rate doctors and to rein in soaring health costs — the very purpose advocated by the president. The data would show, for example, which doctors performed the most knee operations with the fewest complications. Employers said they could then compare the average cost per case for different doctors. And they could steer patients — workers, and retirees and their dependents — to doctors who achieved the best results and offered the best value.

“The Medicare data would be a gold mine of information,” said Maria M. Ghazal, director of public policy at the Business Roundtable. Medicare handles more than a billion claims a year.

Administration officials said they shared the employers’ goals, but were constrained by court rulings that limited the disclosure of data showing Medicare payments to individual doctors, identified by name. Employers disagree, saying those court rulings are no longer relevant.

Touring the country in recent weeks, Bush has said the best way to control health costs is to “empower consumers” with information. “You can’t make good health care decisions unless there’s transparency in the marketplace,” he said on Wednesday in Connecticut.

The White House has said that doctors, hospitals and insurance companies should “make information about prices and quality readily available to all Americans.”

That sentiment gets passionate support from the Business Roundtable, which represents chief executives from 160 of the nation’s largest companies, including Citigroup, Exxon Mobil and General Electric. Health benefits are a major expense for these companies.

“The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services should release 100 percent of the Medicare claims database,” said Robert W. Lane, chairman of Deere & Co., the world’s largest maker of farm equipment and a member of the Business Roundtable. “This is essential to measuring cost efficiency and compliance with clinical guidelines.”

At a recent White House meeting, Bush asked business executives to support his campaign for the disclosure of data on health costs and quality. In response, they asked why Medicare had not released its data.

Last year, before Bush started talking about “transparency in the marketplace,” the Business Roundtable asked for access to the full Medicare claims database.