Q: What is the difference between BENE_ID and Health Insurance Claim (HIC) number?  (FAQ001)

A: The difference between BENE_ID and Claim (HIC) number is as follows:

  • The BENE_ID is a unique beneficiary identifier encrypted specifically to the researcher/Data Use Agreement (DUA). This identifier is unique to the Chronic Condition Data Warehouse (CCW) and protects the identity of the Medicare beneficiary.
  • NOTE: There may be multiple HICs per BENE_ID due to the following reasons:
    • Beneficiary Identity Codes (BICs) change in the source Medicare eligibility files due to change in or clarification of the relationship to the covered beneficiary. When the BIC changes, the HIC changes.
  • There may also be multiple BENE_IDs per HIC due to a change in gender or Date of Birth (DOB) in the CCW monthly enrollment updates.

Q: How do I use identifier crosswalks to link data?  (FAQ002)

A: Your request may include one or more identifier crosswalks that will allow you to link datasets. These identifier crosswalks may include any of the following identifiers, depending on your data use agreement (DUA):

  • BENE_ID (contained in the CCW data)
  • BID, or beneficiary identification (contained in the CCW data received from Acumen – prior to January 2009)
  • SSN (social security number)
  • HIC (health insurance claim number)
  • RES_ID (resident identification number from assessment data)

Q: When using the Drug Characteristics file, would Brand Name (BN) equal Generic Name (GNN) if the drug was dispensed as generic?  (FAQ003)

A: If the GNN is the same as BN, it is a generic product. However, this does not cover all the generic products. Many generic products have their own BN.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains the Orange Book, which lists the approved generic products. For more information, see for more details. If Reference List Drug (RLD) is No, then the drug product is considered a generic product. If the RLD is Yes, then it is called an innovator drug (or the brand product as considered by most) and it is the standard by which the generic products are tested.

Q: How do researchers, who are using CCW data, open a File Transfer Summary (.FTS) document?  (FAQ004)

A: Open the .FTS document in Notepad (it is a plain text document). Open the .SAS program with Notepad (if you don't have SAS). If you are using STATA, use the .FTS for layout to read in the .dat file (Microsoft prompts to open in Word, changes the font automatically; don't save changes).

Q: How is the CCW BENE_ID assigned?  (FAQ005)

A: The BENE_ID assignment is based on an extensive beneficiary matching logic routine which is updated monthly from CMS Medicare Enrollment Database (EDB) data feeds. This data source is more timely than other CMS data sources (conflict with other CMS data sources may occur in a small number of cases). One BENE_ID can map to multiple health insurance claims (HICs) due to changes in HIC, etc. In order to be assigned a BENE_ID in the CCW, the matching logic must reach a predetermined confidence interval, based on CMS specifications.

CMS Virtual Research Data Center

Q: What is the CMS VRDC?  (FAQ006)

A: The CMS VRDC is an alternative solution for accessing and analyzing CMS data for research purposes. Historically, CMS has provided data to researchers by preparing and shipping encrypted data files on external media. The VRDC allows researchers to access and perform their own analysis and manipulation of CMS data virtually from their own workstation. The VRDC provides researchers with a secure mechanism to access timelier data in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.

Q: Who can get access to CMS data using the Virtual Research Data Center (VRDC)?  (FAQ007)

A: The VRDC is a mechanism for approved researchers to access CMS data. To learn more about requesting access to the VRDC, please refer to the Requesting VRDC Access section of this website.  Users may also learn more about getting data for research by visiting the ResDAC website at  NOTE: Researchers interested in using the VRDC to access CMS data will follow a very similar approval process as those who request physical data provision.

Q: Why can't everyone receive access to CMS data via the Virtual Research Data Center (VRDC)?  (FAQ008)

A: The data in the VRDC is protected health information and CMS must comply with all federal laws and regulations governing the release of data, most notably, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). In addition, as stewards of the data, CMS has a responsibility to carefully protect this sensitive information.

Q: Can I still get data shipped to me to conduct research?  (FAQ009)

A: Yes. Researchers now have two options for accessing data: 1) physical delivery of encrypted data files on external media or 2) virtual access via the Virtual Research Data Center (VRDC). In many instances, the cost of accessing data within the VRDC will be much more affordable than receiving data on portable media. Researchers cannot request shipment of data files they are accessing in the VRDC.

Q: Why is the CMS Virtual Research Data Center (VRDC) a more secure mechanism to share data with researchers?  (FAQ010)

A: Under the VRDC model, beneficiary identifiable information never leaves the CMS environment. Researchers will be assigned a dedicated workspace within the VRDC that will contain the data they need for their project(s). They will be allowed to upload external files to the workspace and then conduct analyses using the CMS data as well as any data they upload. However, researchers are only allowed to download non-identifiable analytic output to their independent workstations. They will be required to request an output review for any analytic files they wish to download and CMS will conduct a review of the output to check for protected health information, personally identifiable information, or small cells which could be used to deduce the identity of an individual.

Q: What data can be accessed within the CMS VRDC?  (FAQ011)

A: Descriptions of the available data files can be found on the Research Data Assistance Center (ResDAC) website at Data dictionaries can be found at Additionally, users can upload their own data into the VRDC to analyze with the CMS data. Researchers will also have access to quarterly FFS claims data and the most current version of the Master Beneficiary Summary File.

Q: What data analysis tools are available to researchers in the CMS VRDC?  (FAQ012)

A: SAS is the main data analysis tool in the CMS VRDC. The current version of SAS available is 9.4. Users are not able to upgrade to versions of SAS for which they have internal licenses. In addition, researchers will have access to the Microsoft suite.

Q: Is training available on the CMS VRDC?  (FAQ013)

A: Yes. Several CMS VRDC training classes are available on the public website (, while other on-line classroom training is available in the secure CCW website and can be accessed once a user receives their CCW user ID and password.

Q: Why must users go through Remote Identity Proofing (RIDP), including providing personal and credit information, prior to obtaining a CCW User ID to access the CCW Virtual Research Data Center (VRDC)?   (FAQ027)

A: Identity proofing is implemented to obtain a CCW User ID because CMS must comply with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) requirements. CMS is following OMB Memorandum 04-04 (dated December 16, 2003) which requires ALL federal systems that are accessed electronically to utilize identity-proofing. Experian Precise ID℠ is a third party system that is owned and operated by Experian. CMS contracted with Experian to provide the highest probability that the person accessing government systems is who they say they are; CMS does not receive or store your verification data. The information sent to and from Experian is transmitted securely using strong encryption.

Q: What are the basic user requirements necessary for accessing the CCW VRDC? (FAQ028)

A: Users will need to have the requisite knowledge/skill sets to obtain access as a Standard/Basic CCW VRDC User – Using SAS Environment including:

  • Please discuss internal IT/Security policies within your organization to ensure there are no firewall/security or administrative rights issues that may require involvement from your IT department prior to installation/updates.  All CCW VRDC users must reside in the United States and must only connect to the CCW VRDC from an IP address registered for use in the United States.
  • Working knowledge/experience with SAS or Stata programming language
  • SAS Enterprise Guide (EG) – SAS EG User Guides available on secure CCW Website
  • Meet CCW Security Requirements (including annual security training)
  • Multifactor Authentication (MFA) - Download and register Symantec virtual token; create PIN and Security Code
  • Ability to install and access VMware Horizon Client
  • Register as a participant for My LMS
  • Review of Training on secure My CCW > File Transfers page >SSecurSSeS 
    • CCW Secure File Transfer System (SFTS) User Guide
    • CCW VRDC Participant End-to-End User Guide
    • Attend CCW Training Courses in-person or via webinars; prerequisites are recommended for Workbench and/or database access
  • HIPAA Compliance
    • To protect the confidentiality of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, unless authorized by CMS OEDA, CCW performs data output review prior to release from the CCW VRDC
    • Avoids disclosure or perceived disclosure of confidential information:
      • Protected Health Information (PHI)
      • Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
      • Small cell sizes
      • Comply with output review guidelines based on CCW VRDC access approved by CMS

Q: What are the general system requirements for accessing the CCW Secure File Transfer System (SFTS)? (FAQ029)

A: CCW access — supported web browsers will be current version and one previous version of:

  • Please discuss internal IT/Security policies within your organization to ensure there are no firewall/security or administrative rights issues that may require involvement from your IT department prior to installation/updates.  All CCW VRDC users must reside in the United States and must only connect to the CCW VRDC from an IP registered for use in the United States.
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer (e.g., 11.x, 10.x), Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome
    • Note: To take advantage of the full functionality of the CCW SFTS features, Internet Explorer (IE) with the Java applet is recommended. Depending on the browser used, while the core transfer functionality is available there may be cosmetic differences.
  • Currently supports Windows 7 or newer operating systems; does not support MAC.
  • The Java trusted certificate is not needed for HTML5; however, if previously installed, it should not interfere with the new SFTS functionality.
  • Disable caching.
  • Multifactor Authentication (MFA) - Download and register Symantec virtual token.
  • Overall CCW VRDC performance depends on the user's local capacity.
  • Must have enough free disk space to hold the file to be downloaded to their local machine. Please ensure that you have adequate space on the destination drive to which you will be downloading files.
  • Must have a broadband internet connection.
  • Must have VMware Horizon Client version 4.1 or higher.

Q: Will users be able to upload external files to the CCW VRDC? (FAQ030)

A: Yes. Users may upload finder files through the Secure File Transfer System (SFTS) for their requested cohort and external files for utilization in their analysis.

  • Users are responsible for assuring that any non-public data being uploaded into the VRDC environment is not proprietary or restricted by a license agreement. If data are restricted and the researcher obtains approval to upload the data, the approval must be provided with the DUA data request package
  • Users will need to attest to approval for data files prior to uploading to the VRDC
  • Finder files may include SSN, Date of Birth (DOB), or gender, which provide better linkage to CCW data
  • Uploaded files are subject to review to ensure they are virus free
  • Due to unknown factors such as internet connection and PC speed, it is recommended that uploaded files be limited to five (5) Gigabytes (GB)

Q: Can I upload my own software into the VRDC?  (FAQ031)

A: No, external software cannot be uploaded by users. CCW VRDC Standard desktops include basic software available to all CCW VRDC users.


Q: How do I log into the CCW environments?

A: Review the document CCW Okta Factor Enrollment and Management Guide for information on registering/managing multi-factor authentication and logging into all CCW environments.

Q: How do I change my CCW password?

A: Changing your CCW Password

Q: How do I recover or reset my CCW password?

A: If you have forgotten your password or have difficulty logging in, please contact the CCW Help Desk at or 1-866-766-1915.

Q: Is the CCW login ID case sensitive?  (FAQ014)

A: Yes. Enter your login ID in lowercase as some of the CCW systems are case sensitive and do not accept an uppercase login ID.

Q: I was previously logged into VMware View and now am unable to login in again, what might be the cause for this?  (FAQ015)

A: When you are finished with your VMware View session, the best practice to avoid issues logging in again is: if a program is currently running (i.e., SAS Enterprise Guide [SAS EG]) in your View Virtual Desktop, disconnect from the session by "X"ing out of the window; if a program is not currently running, end the View Virtual Desktop session by going to Start, then click the Log Off button.

Q: I changed my CCW password and now am not able to login. What should I do?  (FAQ016)

A: After you have changed your password, additional steps may be needed to complete the password change process. If you have any active VMware View sessions running (showing option to Reconnect to desktop), logout of the session to clear the cached credentials. In addition, if you have a password embedded in a file, you must also change this password at this time.

Pricing Application

Q: What browsers can I use for the Pricing application?  (FAQ017)

A: The Pricing application works using Google Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer. IE versions 9.0 and earlier are not supported. The application may still work, but the expected appearance and potentially some functionality will be lost.

Q: How do I select multiple values -- for example SSA State Code -- when creating a study size estimate?  (FAQ018)

A: Use IN to select multiple values. Comma-separate the values. Or, if the value has a drop down, use the Ctrl button and select all values that apply.

Q: When creating a study size estimate, if I select multiple chronic conditions is this using the AND operator or the OR operator?  (FAQ019)

A: Researchers have the option to use the AND or OR operator when selecting multiple chronic conditions.

Q: Can I select multiple diagnosis codes in the same field? What about wild card or a range of values?  (FAQ020)

A: Ranges of HCPCS or procedure codes can be entered per field. You can add as many fields as needed for your estimate. The use of wild cards is documented on our list of enhancements.

Q: When creating a study size estimate, if I select multiple diagnosis, HCPCS, or procedure code is this using the AND operator or the OR operator?  (FAQ021)

A: Selecting multiple diagnosis, HCPCS, or procedure code uses the OR operator. Giving researchers the option of AND or OR is documented on our list of enhancements.

Q: Can I estimate a study size using NDC codes?  (FAQ022)

A: This application searches a 20% Medicare thin file in order to return results as quickly as possible. The thin file does not contain NDC codes.

Q: Can I estimate a study size using Medicaid criteria?  (FAQ023)

A: The cohort estimator portion of this application, available on the Estimate Study Size page, does not currently support Medicaid data. However, Medicaid Enrollee Counts are available as a PDF document on the Data Pricing page of this application. Both Medicaid and Medicare/Medicaid Dual Eligible counts are provided. These counts may be manually added to the "Population Size" field on the Data Pricing page. These counts may be manually added to the "Population Size" field on the Data Pricing page.

Q: I am looking for a 20% sample of Medicare beneficiaries. Can I get a pricing estimate for this sample size?  (FAQ024)

A: A 20% sample for one year of Medicare beneficiaries is approximately 10.8 million beneficiaries. On the Data Pricing page of the application, select Population Size and enter 10,800,000. Select the files that you need for your study and submit the request to get pricing for a 20% sample.

Q: I want to study Medicaid only enrollees in New Jersey but the Data Pricing page of the application does not allow me to select a state.  (FAQ025)

A: CMS revised its data pricing, effective June 1, 2014. Medicaid files are no longer priced by state but rather by beneficiary count. To get the count of Medicaid enrollees in New Jersey, go to the Medicaid Enrollee Counts (PDF) document, which is also available on the Data Pricing page.

Q: I would like to get files for certain years which aren't listed on the Data Pricing page.  (FAQ026)

A: Each data file's corresponding years listed in the drop down menus are the current years available for that particular file. The application will be updated as new years become available for certain data files.