Ontario doctors go to court to keep billing information secret

Two groups of doctors and the Ontario Medical Association are headed to court Monday to argue that OHIP payments to top-billing physicians are “personal information” and should not be public.The information and privacy commissioner last year ordered the public disclosure of the top billers’ identities, along with amounts each receives in payments from the taxpayer-funded insurance plan. The information is business-related, not personal, and should be public because of the importance of transparency of government expenditures, the ruling said.A judicial review of that decision is being sought by the OMA and two groups of doctors — known in court submissions only as “several physicians affected directly by the order” and “affected third-party doctors.” They are asking a three-judge panel in Divisional Court to quash the information and privacy commissioner tribunal’s order.The case originated more than three years ago with a freedom of information request from the Star to Ontario’s Health Ministry for physician-identified data on the top 100 billers.The ministry granted partial access — payments and most medical specialties — but withheld physician names, deeming that their release would be an unjustified invasion of privacy.Article Continued BelowThe Star successfully appealed that decision to the privacy commissioner, arguing there is a public interest in disclosure of the names.The top 100 OHIP billers took in a combined $191 million in 2012-13, according to data supplied by the ministry. The highest biller alone claimed more than $6 million, while the second- and third-highest billers each claimed more than $4 million. Nineteen doctors received payments of more than $2 million each.The judicial review of the case is significant because the outcome could affect how much data on physician billings can be released in the future. Pending the outcome of this case, the information and privacy commissioner has put on hold another appeal by the Star, this one seeking the release of physician-identified billings for all Ontario doctors.