$11.2M went to 14 docs; Each received at least $500K from Medicare.

Byline: Lisa Eckelbecker and Aaron Nicodemus

WORCESTER -- Fourteen doctors in Worcester County, half of them ophthalmologists and many of them billing for expensive drugs, received $11.2 million in Medicare payments during 2012, according to detailed data released this month by the federal government.

Each of the 14 doctors received at least $500,000 in Medicare payments, and three received more than $1 million from Medicare, the nation's health program for seniors and people with disabilities.

The data, released after a decade of legal battles, follows previous document releases on Medicare payments to hospitals and provides a peek into the charges that physicians, nurses, physical therapists and other medical professionals seek for their services at a time when the nation is grappling with health care expenses.

But experts are split on how much value the data has. While the data provides the total amount of Medicare reimbursements made to individual doctors, it has limited information about the types of services provided, and does not have a breakdown of the cost of a drug provided.

Terry Dougherty, executive director of the Health Systems Transformation office within Commonwealth Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, described the data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as a "good first step.'' But the data lacks context.

"We're on a good path, with more information and more detail,'' he said. "I think this kind of data can be very helpful, but I don't think the first set is very (helpful).''

The data does not list how much of the reimbursement is paid for drug or supply costs. It also does not contain enough information about the types of specialists to compare doctors adequately, he said.

"There is no way from the data to determine what their costs are. Just to say this particular physician received X dollars, it does not show a full picture,'' he said.

Barbra Rabson, president and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Health Quality Partners, a Boston nonprofit that seeks improving health care quality through collaboration with doctors and patients, described the data as a "blunt instrument'' that has false positives and lacks detail.

But it still can be used in a variety of ways, she said.

Doctors, she said, know about waste in the system, and they know what procedures and tests are being over-prescribed. Getting them to talk to each other, and getting them to be "good stewards'' in the...

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