Wall Street Journal Sues to Open Up Secret Medicare Database
Groundbreaking Series of Articles Leads to Court Action by Dow Jones & Company
NEW YORK - The publisher of The Wall Street Journal filed court papers today to overturn a 31-year-old court injunction that blocks public access to records containing evidence of Medicare fraud and the doctors behind it.
The filing by Dow Jones & Company, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, seeks to overturn an injunction obtained by the American Medical Association in 1979. The injunction prevents the public from knowing how much taxpayer money individual doctors receive from the Medicare program. As a result, The Wall Street Journal and other news organizations are barred from fully investigating and exposing abuses in the $500 billion system.
The legal action follows a series of articles in The Wall Street Journal last year, “Secrets of the System,” that relied on a sampling of the government’s closely guarded Medicare databases. The series highlighted suspicious billing, potential abuses of the system and the government’s role in policing Medicare payments.
However, the 1979 injunction constrained the Journal’s investigation and what it could tell its readers because it limited the Journal to only a subset of the data. In addition, the government would only release the limited subset of data if the Journal agreed not to disclose the identities of individual doctors in the databases.
“It is time to overturn an injunction that, for decades, has allowed some doctors to defraud Medicare free from public scrutiny,” said Mark H. Jackson, general counsel for Dow Jones. “The public has a significant interest in learning whether doctors are fleecing the system, the extent of the problem, and whether the government has been effective in stopping such abuse.”
This effort will not compromise patient confidentiality, Jackson added.
“The Medicare system is funded by taxpayers and yet taxpayers are blocked from seeing how their money is spent,” said Robert Thomson, editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal. “It is in the interests of law-abiding practitioners that those who are gaming the system are exposed. Unless funds are used efficiently and intelligently, the health of the nation, physically and fiscally, will be undermined.”
The Journal series revealed how Medicare reimbursement policies and doctors’ relationships with private companies in the industry could be giving doctors an incentive to bill for unnecessary and high-cost procedures. It also reported on several doctors with questionable billing practices, including one doctor who took home more than $2 million from Medicare in 2008 by billing for an improbable number of obscure medical tests and another who received more than $8.1 million from Medicare over three years while treating a suspiciously high percentage of patients with an extremely rare condition. Because of the injunction, neither doctor could be named in the articles.
The law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP is representing Dow Jones in this matter.
About Dow Jones
Dow Jones & Company is a global provider of news and business information and a developer of technology to deliver content to consumers and organizations across multiple platforms. Dow Jones produces newspapers, newswires, Web sites, apps, newsletters, magazines, proprietary databases, conferences, radio and video. Its premier brands include The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, Factiva, Barron’s, MarketWatch, SmartMoney and All Things D. Its information services combine technology with news and data to support business decision making. The company pioneered the first successful paid online news site and its industry leading innovation enables it to serve customers wherever they may be, via the Web, mobile devices and tablets. The Dow Jones Local Media Group publishes community newspapers, Web sites and other products in six U.S. states. Dow Jones & Company (www.dowjones.com) is a News Corporation company (Nasdaq:NWS) (Nasdaq:NWSA) (ASX:NWS) (ASX:NWSLV) (www.newscorp.com).
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