The RUC, Health Care Finance’s Star Chamber, Remains Untouchable

Brian Klepper

Posted 2/1/13 on The Health Affairs Blog

BK PhotoOn January 7, a federal appeals court rejected six Georgia primary care physicians’ (PCPs) challenge to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) 20-year, sole-source relationship with the secretive, specialist-dominated federal advisory committee that determines the relative value of medical services. The American Medical Association’s (AMA) Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC) is, in the court’s view, not subject to the public interest rules that govern other federal advisory groups. Like the district court ruling before it, the decision dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims out of hand and on procedural grounds, with almost no discussion of content or merit.

Thus ends the latest attempt to dislodge what is perhaps the most blatantly corrosive mechanism of US health care finance, a star-chamber of powerful interests that, complicit with federal regulators, spins Medicare reimbursement to the industry’s advantage and facilitates payment levels that are followed by much of health care’s commercial sector. Most important, this new legal opinion affirms that the health industry’s grip on US health care policy and practice is all but unshakable and unaccountable, and it appears to have co-opted the reach of law.

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How Primary Care Became the Job Nobody Wanted (and How To Fix It))

Brian Klepper

Posted 11/21/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog

Here a link on SlideServe to my plenary presentation on CMS’ relationship with the AMA’s Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC), and how/why it has undermined American primary care. I delivered this overview at the Medical Home Summit in Philadelphia earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the team – led by Paul Fischer MD, a primary care physician in Augusta, GA – that sued CMS and HHS over their failure to require the RUC’s to adhere to the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act is awaiting the appeal court’s ruling that will determine whether the case is at an end or whether it moves forward into discovery.

Given the seriousness and far-reaching impacts of the problem, it is shameful that America’s primary care medical societies have shrunk from supporting this action. In doing so, and in yearning to continue to align and participating with the AMA and the RUC, they have become complicit with them. They have not only compromised the primary care physicians who are their members, but ignored the much larger problems of patients who are too often put at unnecessary risk through care they don’t need, and purchasers – individuals, businesses and governments – who have been exploited for more than 2 decades with costs that are double those in other industrialized nations.

Who Will Speak For Physicians and Their Patients?

Brian Klepper

Posted 8/29/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog

Dr. George Lundberg has an important article on Medpage Today that deserves the thoughtful consideration of every American physician. He argues that the American Medical Association, a successful and representative organization for many decades, more recently “fails on both fronts” to fight for doctors and for the health of the American people. It has become, he says, “unsalvageable.”

In a companion piece earlier this month, he called on all physicians to become lifelong members of the AMA, as a way to gain professional impact and to make the AMA more reflective of American physicians’ concerns. “If you are an American physician and you don’t like what the AMA has done and is doing, if you are not a member, shut your mouth, you have no right to complain.”

Continue reading “Who Will Speak For Physicians and Their Patients?”

The Most Important Health Care Group You’ve Never Heard Of

Brian Klepper and Paul Fischer

Posted 8/06/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog

Excessive health care spending is overwhelming America’s economy, but the subtler truth is that this excess has been largely facilitated by subjugating primary care. A wealth of evidence shows that empowered primary care results in better outcomes at lower cost. Other developed nations have heeded this truth. But US payment policy has undervalued primary care while favoring specialists. The result has been spotty health quality, with costs that are double those in other industrialized countries. How did this happen, and what can we do about it.

American primary care physicians make about half what the average specialist takes home, so only the most idealistic medical students now choose primary care. Over a 30 year career, the average specialist will earn about $3.5 million more. Orthopedic surgeons will make $10 million more. Despite this pay difference, the volume, complexity and risk of primary care work has increased over time. Primary care office visits have, on average, shrunk from 20 minutes to 10 or less, and the next patient could have any disease, presenting in any way.

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A Health Affairs Study on Medicare Spending and the RUC

Chris Fleming

Posted 5/7/12 on the Health Affairs Blog

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

To calculate physicians’ fees under Medicare—which in turn influence private payers’ decisions on how they will pay doctors—the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) relies on the recommendations of a controversial advisory panel known as the RUC (the Relative Value Update Committee), which mainly represents a broad group of national physicians’ organizations. In recent years physicians in primary care have expressed concerns that this committee has too little representation from their ranks and is partly responsible for increasing the pay gap between primary care providers and specialists. Other research has shown that increases in physician service prices brought about by committee recommendations contribute to increased costs of services used by Medicare enrollees.

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CMS’ Opportunity: A Lawsuit Offers A Chance To Reform Physician Payment

Brian Klepper and David C. Kibbe

Posted 10/25/11 on the Health Affairs Blog

By mid-November, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) must respond to the legal complaint filed in a Maryland federal court by six Augusta, Georgia family physicians.

These doctors are not asking for money, but for relief from the negative effects brought about by CMS’ twenty year reliance on the American Medical Association’s Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC) for valuing doctors’ work. They are asking CMS to enforce the Federal Advisory Committee Act(FACA), which requires that regulatory agencies shield themselves from undue special interest influence. In the process, they are asking CMS to rethink Medicare’s approach to physician payment, with a mind toward recognizing and valuing primary care’s ability to treat the whole patient within a larger system of care. They are asking CMS to develop payment policy that supports the needs of patients over those of professional groups.

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AMA: Pay Docs For Care Coordination

Merrill Goozner

Posted 10/10/11 on Gooz News

The little-known American Medical Association committee that recommends physician pay scales to Medicare’s fee-for-service program today asked the agency to reimburse physicians for coordinating care for their chronically-ill patients. In a letter to administrator Donald Berwick, the Relative Value Scale Update Committee (better known as the RUC) recommended the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services pay for phone calls, counseling sessions and other services that help their patients wend their way through the complicated health care system.

Good idea, and long overdue. But what I didn’t see in the letter from RUC committee chairwoman Barbara Levy was any reference for how to pay for these new services. How about a reduction in the “relative value” of back surgery or conducting angioplasty on patients complaining of persistent chest pains? These are among the most expensive and overused procedures in medicine, incentivized by the extraordinarily high fees earned by the surgeons who do them. These surgeons often earn two or three times what primary care physicians earn.

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