The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last week opened a trove of Medicare Part D data on drugs that health care providers prescribed through the program — and the prices patients paid to fill them — in 2013.
CMS said in a release the “privacy-protected data,” gathered from more than a million health care providers for the first time, was “part of a wide set of initiatives to achieve better care, smarter spending and healthier people through our health care system.” The data totals $103 billion in purchases of about 3,000 drugs by Medicare Part D beneficiaries, who make up 68 percent of all Medicare enrollees.
The data sets list information on the prescriber, drug type and quantity prescribed, and total cost. No beneficiary information is given, however.
“This transparency will give patients, researchers, and providers access to information that will help shape the future of our nation’s health for the better,” acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt said in a release. “Beneficiaries’ personal information is not available; however, it’s important for consumers, their providers, researchers, and other stakeholders to know how many prescription drugs are prescribed and how much they cost the health care system, so that they can better understand how the Medicare Part D program delivers care.”
The hope is the data will make it possible to illuminate larger trends in drug prescriptions and costs to Medicare patients.
“With this data, it will be possible to conduct a wide array of prescription drug analyses that compare drug use and costs for specific providers, brand versus generic drug prescribing rates, and to make geographic comparisons at the state level,” the release said.
For instance, the drug most popularly prescribed to patients claiming care through Part D was hydrocodone-acetaminophen, an addictive narcotic better known as Vicodin. It was prescribed to more than 8 million beneficiaries in 2013. The second most popularly prescribed drug was simvastatin, a cholesterol reducer with the brand name Zocor.
While most are celebrating the data release, the American Medical Association warns that it’s not as simple as it seems to develop valid conclusions from the data.
“The data released today is much more complex than initially meets the eye. The limitations of it should be more comprehensively listed and highlighted more prominently so that patients can clearly understand them,” AMA President Robert M. Wah said in a statement.
He added, “We are also troubled by the lack of context provided with the data that could help explain physician prescribing practices and pharmacy filling practices before conclusions are drawn.”