Minnesota releases treasure trove of health care data

A treasure trove of information on health conditions, medical services and costs in Minnesota is now available to researchers, providers and insurers.

The Minnesota Department of Health is publishing the first batch of data from its Minnesota All Payer Claims Database this week, and lawmakers hope researchers will mine the information to learn more about variations in health care services and patient outcomes.

The repository contains provider billing information collected by insurance companies, plan administrators and public payers.

The data summarize health conditions, medical services and costs, but patient identities have been removed.

Stefan Gildemeister, the state health economist, said giving outside researchers access to the repository should expand greatly on the work the agency has already done to track health care quality and costs.

"So I can imagine that there are folks who would bring much more expertise to this information," said Gildemeister, "and therefore could help us to understand more about disease burden, about the cost of illness, changes over time."

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The data are available free of charge.

Last year, the Minnesota Legislature made the claims data public as a way to create more price transparency and improve health care quality.

Five other states — Maine, Oregon, Utah, New Hampshire and Colorado — are currently releasing public files from their all-payer claims databases.

"More transparency in health care is essential," Carolyn Pare, president and chief executive officer of the Minnesota Health Action Group, said in a statement. "We appreciate the availability of this data to help inform how our members, which include some of Minnesota's largest employers, make purchasing decisions."

The data doesn't include information on prescription drug use, patterns of individual health care use or details on payer type, such as government or commercial insurance.