May 31 A U.S. federal judge lifted a 33-year-old injunction barring public
access to a confidential database of Medicare insurance claims, a decision that could lead to
greater scrutiny of how physicians treat patients and charge for their services.
Judge Marcia Morales Howard ruled in favor of a motion by Dow Jones, the publisher of the
Wall Street Journal, that the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida lift an
injunction imposed in 1979.
The American Medical Association had fought lifting the ban, arguing that disclosure of the
information would violate physicians' right to privacy. Doctors had successfully made the same
argument in 1979, when a judge ruled the release of such information would violate the 1974
Dow Jones went to court in January 2011, attempting to overturn the injunction after a
series of stories in the Journal found tens of millions of dollars in fraud and other abuse by
doctors and other Medicare providers. The Journal's work, however, was restricted by limitations
placed on the data released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which rendered
anonymous all information pertaining to individual Medicare providers. That meant reporters
weren't allowed to name individual doctors who the Journal identified solely through using the
In her ruling, Judge Howard said that because of judicial rulings in privacy cases in the
years since the 1979 injunction, the ban was based "upon a legal principle that can no longer be
Officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services couldn't be reached for comment.
The American Medical Association didn't respond immediately to a request for comment. A Dow
Jones spokeswoman declined to comment.
When the suit was filed, the Journal's editor-in-chief at the time, Robert Thomson, said:
"The Medicare system is funded by taxpayers, and yet taxpayers are blocked from seeing how their
money is spent. It is in the interest of law-abiding practitioners that those who are gaming the
system are exposed."
Dow Jones is a unit of News Corp.