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The CMS VRDC is a virtual research environment that provides timelier access to Medicare and Medicaid program data in a more efficient and cost effective manner. Researchers working in the CMS VRDC will have direct access to approved data files and be able to conduct their analysis within the CMS secure environment.

What data can be accessed within the CMS VRDC?

The following files can be accessed within the VRDC:

  • Master Beneficiary Summary File
  • Medicare Fee-For-Service Claims
  • Medicare Part C Encounter data
  • Medicare Part D Events files
  • Medicare-Medicaid Linked File
  • Medicaid (MAX) files
  • Assessment files

Researchers will also have access to quarterly FFS claims data and the most current version of the Master Beneficiary Summary File.

What is the fee to access the CMS VRDC?

Access to the VRDC is based on two factors, the number of ‘seats’ and the number of distinct research projects. A ‘seat’ in the CMS VRDC is defined as an individual user. Due to licensing requirements, a ‘seat’ can only be allocated to 1 individual for the duration of the research project.  Multiple users can work on a project but each user will need to purchase a seat in the VRDC. The VRDC fees are contained in the ‘CMS Fee Information for CMS Research Identifiable Data’.

How can researchers request access to the CMS VRDC?

ResDAC is the primary point of contact for all CMS VRDC requests.  Researchers request access to the VRDC when submitting a research identifiable data request.

Upon approval of a research package, how is CMS VRDC access granted?

See "FAQ027" on the CMS Virtual Research Data Center Frequently Asked Questions page on the CCW website for details.

What are the general user and system requirements for accessing the CMS VRDC?

See "FAQ028" and "FAQ029" on the CMS Virtual Research Data Center Frequently Asked Questions page on the CCW website for details. 

Can multiple individuals work on a single project within the CMS VRDC?

Yes, individuals that share a DUA and have all purchased a seat in the VRDC are able to collaborate within the virtual desktop in their SAS library.

Can multiple researchers share the same 'seat' within the VRDC if they are working on the same project?

No, only one (1) individual may be allocated to a ‘seat.’  If multiple researchers are working on the same project, each researcher must purchase a ‘seat’ in the VRDC.

Can researchers "split time" within a single seat (i.e. one researcher uses the seat three days a week while another uses it the rest of the week)?

No, each ‘seat’ requires a license and the license is assigned to an individual.  For proper tracking and accounting of the VRDC licenses, a ‘seat’ can only be allocated to one (1) individual for the duration of the research project.

Can a researcher with approved access work on multiple projects?

Yes, an approved researcher can work on multiple projects. The researcher must prepare and submit a data request package through ResDAC for each project to be conducted and pay the associated fees. Upon approval and assignment of a DUA, the researcher will be provided with the data needed to conduct the approved study. If a researcher uses data from an approved DUA for a non-approved project, it will be considered a DUA breach and will result in termination of their VRDC access.

Can researchers upload external files to the CMS VRDC?

Yes, see "FAQ030" on the CMS Virtual Research Data Center Frequently Asked Questions page on the CCW website for details. 

Can I upload my own software into the VRDC?

No, see "FAQ031" on the CMS Virtual Research Data Center Frequently Asked Questions page on the CCW website for details. 

If a seat is allocated 500 GB of work space, will the researcher be notified when they are approaching the limit and what will happen once the 500 GB is exceeded?

Yes, the CMS VRDC contractor monitors the space within the environment and will notify researchers if they are approaching their limit.  If researchers are approaching the 500GB limit, they will be required to either clean-up and remove files from the workspace or purchase additional space. Additional space can be purchased in 500 GB blocks for $2,000.

What data analysis tools are available to researchers in the CMS VRDC?

See "FAQ012" on the CMS Virtual Research Data Center Frequently Asked Questions page on the CCW website for details. 

Is there a pricing solution that allows mult-user sharing or "bulk" seat licensing?

Multi-user or sharing of VRDC seats is not currently available.

How often will VRDC fees change?

CMS is authorized by Section 1106(c) of the Social Security Act to charge requestors the cost of making the data available. As a result, the VRDC fees will be reviewed and adjusted periodically to reflect changes in contractor and infrastructure costs as well as volume of users in the VRDC environment.

Why does output require a review prior to download?

CMS is committed to ensuring the privacy of personally identifiable information and protected health information. The output review process helps avoid the disclosure of personally identifiable information or protected health information.

What data can be taken out of the CMS VRDC?

Researchers are only permitted to downloaded aggregate, statistical information. No personally identifiable information or protected health information may be taken out of the VRDC. All requests to download data from the CMS VRDC must go through an output review to screen for personally identifiable information or protected health information.

What level of aggregation is required for output? What form should output reports take (tables, aggregated data, SAS output)?

Files must be aggregated above a beneficiary level resulting in a minimum count of 11 beneficiaries at the level of aggregation. Depending on the population size this can result in aggregation to a geographic level (state, county, HRR), diagnosis group level, or procedure code level. Output can be in Excel tables, aggregated SAS datasets, SAS output files, word documents and PDF documents.

What is the maximum size allowable for an approved output file leaving the CMS VRDC?

Maximum allowable varies by type of user. Researchers are approved to receive 1 output review per week of up to 100MB. Innovators are approved to receive 3 output reviews per week of up to 300MB. Multiple files may be downloaded but each file must be within the specified size limit.

How long is the output review process expected to take?

CMS estimates that the output review process will take place within 2 business days (48 hours). However, additional time may be required for complex datasets. 

How long will project data be stored within the VRDC? Is all data related to a project deleted at the conclusion of the project?

Project data will be stored for a three year period. Note that this only includes analysis and does not include the actual source files. The data are maintained to allow the researcher access to the data in the event it is needed to respond to questions regarding journal publications. If access is needed for this purpose, the researcher will be provided with access for a one month (30-day) period to perform this task.