Legislation has been introduced in the Senate that would require the creation of a searchable Medicare claims database that the public can access at no cost.

The legislation would also clarify that data on Medicare payments to physicians and suppliers do not fall under a Freedom of Information Act exemption.

The bipartisan bill is called the Medicare Data Access for Transparency and Accountability Act (Medicare DATA). The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

Under the bill, the Department of Health and Human Services would be required to build and maintain the database.

“Medicare is a $500 billion program with billions of dollars going out in error each year,” Grassley says. “The bad actors are getting bigger and bolder all the time.

“They’re able to stay out of law enforcement’s reach too often,” he adds. “It’s time to try new things. More transparency about billing and payments increases public understanding of where tax dollars go. The bad actors might be dissuaded if they knew their actions were subject to the light of day.”

Wyden says that “Hiding information on how taxpayer dollars are being spent is not something we do in this country.”

Moreover, he says, “If taxpayer dollars are being spent responsibly there is no reason to hide.”

He says that shedding light on Medicare claims “will be helpful to those making medical decisions, offer insight into how Medicare dollars are being spent and prevent wasteful spending and fraud.

“All of which begs the question ‘why isn’t this information already available?’” Wyden says.

Last month, Grassley introduced legislation requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to make Medicare claims and payment data available to the public in a manner similar to other federal spending disclosed on www.USAspending.gov.