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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Should Family Physicians Leave the RUC?

Brian Klepper

Posted 3/30/12 on KevinMD

Last June the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) sent a letter to the AMA’s Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC) demanding specific changes to the ways that the RUC conducts its business. Primary care has been severely compromised by the RUC’s recommendations, and there was an implicit threat that the nation’s largest medical society would withdraw if the demands were ignored.

I co-authored a Kaiser Health News article in January 2011 calling on AAFP and other primary care societies to quit the RUC. The campaign was given real teeth when six Augusta, GA primary care physicians filed suit last June in a Maryland federal court against the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The complaint charges that those agencies have refused to require the RUC to adhere to the stringent requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which ensures that policy is formulated in the public rather than the special interest.

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Conflicts of Interests Among The RUC’s Members

Roy Poses

First published 4/26/11 on Health Care Renewal

Since 2007, we have been writing about the secretive RUC (RBRVS Update Committee), the private AMA committee that somehow has managed to get effective control over how Medicare pays physicians. The RUC has been accused of setting up incentives that strongly favor invasive, high technology procedures while disfavoring primary care and other “cognitive medicine.” Despite the central role of (perverse) incentives in raising health care costs while limiting access and degrading quality, there was surprisingly little discussion about the pivotal role played by the RUC until the formation of the “Replace the RUC” movement (see post here).

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The AMA’s Spin

Brian Klepper

In case you don’t believe the AMA takes challenges to its role as CMS’ sole advisor on medical procedure valuation seriously, check out this letter that was sent by 2009 RUC Chair William Rich MD and RUC Chair-Elect (now Chair) Barbara Levy MD to Roy Poses MD, then Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at Brown University Medical School.

Dr. Poses is a long time crusader who writes at the always controversial and scrupulously factual Health Care Renewal. On a van carrying us both to the Aspen Health Forum campus in 2007, Roy asked if I knew about the RUC. I didn’t, but he explained the basics, and then I researched and learned more when I returned home. We’ve been on the same page on this issue since.

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How To Fix Primary Care – Step 1

On MedPage Today, Editor-at-Large George Lundberg, MD comments on American health care’s need to re-empower primary care. Dr. Lundberg is the former Editor-in-Chief at Medscape and JAMA.

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Transcript:

Hello and Welcome. I’m Dr. George Lundberg and this is At Large at MedPage Today.

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Outing the RUC: Medicare Reimbursement and Primary Care

JOSH FREEMAN

Originally published 2/2/11 on Medicine and Social Justice

Along with many others, I have written extensively about the need for more primary care physicians in the US. I have also addressed the various disincentives that exist for medical students to enter primary care specialties, such as family medicine, rather than narrower subspecialties or procedural specialties. One of these is the lower income earned by doctors in primary care; this is felt by many to be one of the major issues in specialty selection, and is increasing in importance as students graduate from medical school with larger and larger debt burdens, often exceeding $200,000. A study by the Robert Graham Center of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), “Income disparities shape medical student choice”, finds that the difference in income between primary care on subspecialists has been increasing since 1981, and that by now there is a difference of $3.5 million in the lifetime income of the average subspecialist (not even the most highly paid) and the average primary care physician.

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