Enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans, which are offered by private companies approved by Medicare, has grown from 5.3 million people in 2004 to 19 million people — or almost a third of the Medicare population — in 2017. Government payments to Medicare Advantage plans have risen from $77 billion to more than $200 billion a year over that time.
Health care researchers have argued that data collected on Medicare Advantage plans should be made public to allow analysts to try to get more insight into how much value the program delivers. “Taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent, considering that Medicare Advantage plans receive substantial payments from the federal government and provide care for a significant and growing proportion of beneficiaries,” Niall Brennan, Charles Ornstein and Austin Frakt wrote in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, last month.
Now, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is making Medicare Advantage data available to researchers for the first time, administrator Seema Verma announced Thursday.
The move, part of a new data-driven strategy, comes some 10 months after the agency angered researchers by canceling a planned release. "We recognize that the MA data is not perfect, but we have determined that the quality of the available MA data is adequate enough to support research," Verma said at the 2018 Datapalooza industry conference, according to Fierce Healthcare. "Data has the potential to help produce better, more targeted treatments for these patients, improving their quality of life while at the same time reducing costs. Our hope is that this data will be used for critical research on this vulnerable population."
CMS expects to make Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program data available next year, Verma said.
Researchers welcomed the CMS data release. "This is a *tremendously* big deal in health policy analytics," Lindsey Leininger of Mathematica tweeted.