The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will for the first time release Medicare Advantage data to researchers, according to CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

Currently, researchers have access to Medicare claims data for the fee-for-service program. However, the release of Medicare Advantage data will provide a more comprehensive view of care provided to Medicare beneficiaries, said Verma at last week’s Health Datapalooza conference in Washington.

“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,” she added. “And although this is our first release, going forward we plan to make this data available annually.”

Specifically, CMS is expanding data available to researchers starting with 2015 Medicare Advantage encounter data, which provides detailed information about services to beneficiaries enrolled in an MA managed care plan in calendar year 2015.

“Over the years, CMS has released a considerable amount of data in a variety of formats—data that is important to the work of researchers, innovators and thought leaders like yourselves,” Verma told the Health Datapalooza audience. “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.”

Also See: GAO calls Medicare Advantage encounter data into question

In addition, Verma revealed that Medicare Advantage data is just the beginning for the agency in terms of sharing information with the research community. In 2019, CMS expects to make Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program data available.

“This means researchers will have access to data on another 70 million patients, which represent a different population with different needs than Medicare beneficiaries,” observed Verma, who noted that Medicaid provides health coverage to millions of Americans, including people with disabilities, pregnant women, children and low-income adults who often experience multiple health issues and face challenges managing their care. “Our hope is that this data will be used for critical research on this vulnerable population. It will also help provide information for our first-ever Medicaid Scorecard that we will be releasing this year.”

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