CMS To Give Private Sector Access to Medicare Program Data

June 3, 2015 in News

On Tuesday, CMS announced that it will soon give the private sector access to troves of Medicare data, MedCity News reports.

CMS acting Administrator Andy Slavitt made the announcement at Health Datapalooza, an event promoting transparent and accessible health care data (Versel, MedCity News, 6/3).

The move marks a change from CMS’ longtime policy of barring private-sector researchers from using CMS data for commercial reasons (Versel, MedCity News, 6/3).

In a statement, Niall Brennan, chief data officer at CMS and director of the agency’s Office of Enterprise and Data Analytics, said, “Historically, CMS has prohibited researchers from accessing detailed CMS data if they intended to use it to develop products or tools to sell” (Miliard, Healthcare IT News, 6/2).

Slavitt said the decision to open up the data to the private sector aims to “shak[e] up health care innovation and se[t] a new standard for data transparency” (Walsh, Clinical Innovation Technology, 6/2). Further, the policy change aims to spur the development of new technologies, such as predictive modeling tools (Healthcare IT News, 6/2).

Details of Announcement

Under the new policy, set to take effect in September, data will be accessible through CMS’ Virtual Research Data Center, which includes Medicare fee-for-service claims data (Kalish, Health Data Management, 6/2).

Researchers will be vetted before they are given access (Mazmanian, FCW, 6/2).

According to Health Data Management, researchers will be able to analyze the data in a “secure CMS environment.” Specifically, CMS will bar researchers from removing patient-level information from the database. Instead, they will be able to download aggregated, privacy-protected reports.

While the data will be de-identified to protect patient identities, health care providers will be identifiable, according to CMS (Health Data Management, 6/2).

According to Slavitt, researchers and entrepreneurs also will be able to combine the CMS data with other data sources (FCW, 6/2).


In a release, the Healthcare Leadership Council lauded CMS’ announcement as a “critical step” toward transforming the U.S. health care system.

Council President Mary Grealy said, “Our ability to build a[n] … evidence-based, innovative health care system hinges on information,” adding, “By making this data accessible to the private sector, CMS is making it possible for this process to accelerate” (Healthcare Leadership Council release, 6/2).

Other Data Sharing Changes

Meanwhile, Slavitt also announced that CMS will begin sharing data on a quarterly basis, rather than annually.

In addition, all data submitted to CMS will have to be in a machine-readable format to help drive consumer engagement (Health Data Management, 6/2).

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