The RUC Is Bad Medicine: It Has To Go

Brian Klepper

Posted 8/12/13 on Medscape Business of Medicine

BK 711“One of the biggest mistakes we made … is that we took the RUC … back in 1992 and gave it to the AMA. … It’s incredibly political, and it’s just human nature…the specialists that spend more money and have more time have a bigger impact.”

This was Tom Scully, former Bush II Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), previously the Health Care Finance Administration (HCFA). He was a panelist in a May 10, 2012 Senate Finance Committee RoundTable discussion by former HCFA/CMS Administrators and has become one of the RUC’s most outspoken critics. He was explaining how the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC), a group that asked if it could help the government by overseeing a valuation process for medical services, came to dominate and distort the pricing used in Medicare, Medicaid and commercial health plans.

Mr. Scully echoed this sentiment recently.

“The idea that $100 billion in federal spending is based on fixed prices that go through an industry trade association in a process that is not open to the public is pretty wild. … Having the AMA run the process of fixing prices for Medicare was crazy from the beginning.”

Gail Wilensky, HCFA Administrator under Bush I, was wistful. “It happened innocently enough.”

It is remarkable and compelling to hear these federal health program ex-stewards express regret about a fiasco they had a hand in. Their “mea culpas” are almost palpable. Mr. Scully, in a recent Washington Post video interview, gave a quick aside, “It’s partially my fault.”

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Adding Seats: The RUC’s Sleight of Hand

Paul Fischer and Brian Klepper

Posted 3/14/12 on The Health Affairs Blog

©2012 Health Affairs by Project HOPE – The People-to-People Health Foundation, Inc.

On February 1, the American Medical Association’s Relat ive Value Scale Update Committee (RUC), Medicare’s primary advisor on physician payment, announced the addition of two seats: a permanent one for geriatrics and a rotating one for primary care. The American Geriatrics Society and the American College of Physicians praised the move as a step forward that will amplify the RUC’s appreciation of their physicians’ contributions.

But the RUC’s maneuvers are a cynical sleight of hand. They attempt to assuage charges of sub-specialty bias while continuing the RUC’s sub-specialty dominance. The additions reduce proceduralists’ share of votes from 27 of 29 (93 percent) to 27 of 31 (87 percent), hardly a power shift. Primary care comprises about 35 percent of US physicians, but cognitive medicine would have only 13 percent of the votes.

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Response To RUC Chair Barbara Levy’s Comment on the Health Affairs Blog

Brian’s Note: Last week David Kibbe and I posted a Health Affairs Blog column, Trusting Government: A Tale of Two Federal Advisory Groups, that compared the openness and transparency of the Health Information Technology Policy Committee (HITPC) and the AMA’s RVS Update Committee (RUC), as a way of showing how the behaviors of each engender public trust or distrust in government. HITPC, a Federal Advisory Committee, advises the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) on matters pertaining to the ARRA/HITECH legislation. The RUC has been CMS’ sole advisor for two decades on the value of medical services. As regular readers know, over the past year, we have been highly critical of CMS’ inappropriate reliance on the RUC, and believe this relationship has been a key driver of excessive health care cost.

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Residents and Medical Students Should Support Efforts to Revalue Cognitive Services

Kevin Bernstein

First posted 9/17/11 on The Future of Family Medicine

The numbers do not lie.  As stated in a previous post and its referenced links, the payment gap between primary care and specialists has increased since the American Medical Assocation started the Resource-Based Relative Value Scale (RVS) Update Committee (“RUC”) in the early 1990s.  It is difficult to separate the two when the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) has accepted over 90% of the RUC’s recommendations throughout the years.  This can be interpreted in a number of different ways but let’s be honest – I am a current intern and do not have enough time to go through the different interpretations –  I will leave that up to your comments.

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Primary Care in Revolt

Brian Klepper

Last Thursday Anna Wilde Mathews of the Wall Street Journal ran an article detailing the activities surrounding primary care’s gradual awakening and mobilization. With Tom McGinty, Ms. Mathews authored a damning expose on the RUC last October that precipitated our efforts on against CMS’ 20 year reliance on the AMA’s RVS Update Committee (RUC) for valuation of medical services.

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A Modest Proposal:What if all Specialty Procedures Were Coded with Four CPT Codes?

Paul Fischer

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Barbara Levy, Chairwoman of the Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC), commented on the American Medical Association’s (AMA’s) decision to have minimal primary care participation on the RUC, saying the committee is an “expert panel” and not meant to be representative.  Since the committee is made up of 27 specialists, one family doc, and a pediatrician, the AMA apparently believes it requires little in the way of primary care expertise but lots of experts from every minute surgical specialty.

This is, of course, reflected in the AMA’s coding system.  Most of primary care is condensed into four Evaluation and Management (E/M) codes: a “focused” encounter, an “expanded” encounter, a “detailed” encounter, and a “comprehensive” encounter (99212-99215).  It does not matter whether the problem is a cold or an acute myocardial infarction.  It does not matter if you worked with just the patient or the entire family spanning three generations.  It does not matter if the problem was simple and common (eg, essential hypertension) or rare and complex (eg, pheochromocytoma).  It does not matter whether you completed everything in a single visit or spent hours fighting with an insurance company for payment.  And it does not matter whether you dealt with a couple of well-established problems or a dozen new ones.  It is clear that the AMA has little expertise in this area.  What is amazing is that they think they have enough!

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Facing Uncertainty: Why Primary Care Physicians Must Act Now

Brian Klepper

Over the past four months, the germ of a long overdue primary care uprising has sprouted and begun to flower. When David Kibbe and I first tried to think through how to neutralize the RUC’s terrible influence on American health care, we realized the first steps had to be the primary care community’s refusal to continue “enabling” the RUC – we meant this very much in the clinical sense – through its continued participation and complicity. When the game is rigged against you, there is no benefit in staying at the table.

Primary care societies would visibly and noisily abandon the RUC, with the understanding that quietly walking away would be counterproductive in the extreme. It should be a highly publicized exit, filled with righteous indignation and clarifying for the American public how the RUC’s actions and relationship with CMS have shafted patients, primary care physicians, and the people who pay for health care in America.

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