Tag Archives: Paul Fischer

The RUC’s Hollow Victory

Brian Klepper

Posted 5/18/12 on The Health Affairs Blog

On May 9th, William Nickerson, Senior Judge in the Southern Maryland Federal District Court, issued a 15 page ruling against the six Augusta, GA primary care physician plaintiffs who challenged HHS’ and CMS’ longstanding relationship with the American Medical Association’s Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC). The opinion did not weigh the substance of the case, but instead focused on a procedural provision in which Congress bars the judicial system from considering how the relative value units (RVUs) of medical services are determined. Judge Nickerson wrote:

Accepting as true that RUC plays a major role in the formation of the PFS [Physician Fee Schedule] and also accepting as true that this role unfairly skews the PFS toward certain medical professions and procedures, the Court, nonetheless, finds that Congress has precluded courts from reviewing, not only the final relative values and RVUs, but also the method by which those values and units are generated.

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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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The Need for a Level Playing Field for Physician Pay

Paul M. Fischer

Everyone in medicine knows that some physicians are overpaid for the services they provide and some are underpaid. The list of specialties in each category is no secret, though we don’t talk about it much.  It’s part of the same ethic that teaches us not to criticize another doctor’s care.

But the sad fact is that in medicine, money is tied to prestige, power, public credibility, and medical student interest.  If we don’t deal with this problem, medicine will continue to fall hopelessly into the “haves” and the “have nots,” that is, those who “own” lucrativeCPTcodes and those who don’t. So the question is how did this inequity come to be and how can it be remedied?

History shows that physician pay rarely follows value, but rather aligns with power.  When I was a medical student, heart caths were new and were the domain of invasive radiologists. But it wasn’t long before the cardiology socialites took on the radiologists and successfully claimed heart imaging as their own.  Power and wealth followed.

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Why Medical Specialists Should Want to End the Reign of the RUC

Paul M. Fischer, MD

The old doctors know.  The practice of medicine has changed in a very basic way over the last 20 years.  Physician relationships have lost their civility and have been replaced by a level of tension that takes the fun out of collegial interactions.  I remember my first year of family medicine as the only doctor in Weeping Water, Nebraska.  My personal medical community had gone from an entire medical school campus with limitless lectures and many physicians to share in “interesting cases” to an occasional phone call with a consultant in Omaha.  These contacts became my primary source for medical education and updates for Weeping Water’s health care.  The phone calls were collegial, respectful, and focused on what was best for my patients.

What happened?

The RUC is the secretive committee of the AMA that has been CMS’s primary source of physician payment data over the past 20 years.  It has elaborately articulated the complexity of medical procedures but ignores and confuses the cognitive work involved in patient care – collapsing it into a few evaluation and management codes. As a result, many medical specialties have found that their financial success is tied primarily to doing things TO patients, rather than caring FOR patients.

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Why Primary Care Needs A New Organization

Paul M. Fischer

First published on 6/15/11 on MedPage Today

A few weeks ago, the Board of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) announced that, for now, it would continue participating in the Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC), the secretive American Medical Association committee that, through a longstanding relationship with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), has heavily influenced physician reimbursement.

At nearly the same time, Medicare announced that it will go broke in 2024, a decade sooner than expected and only 13 years away.

During the 20 year reign of the RUC, the average excess in lifetime earnings of specialists compared with primary care physicians has increased from $1.5 million to $3.5 million. Yet, the need for primary care has never been greater or its future foggier.

The organizations that should promote primary care must take some of the blame.

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Why Primary Care Parity Matters

Paul M. Fischer

After an exciting and challenging day of caring for patients and teaching students, a  third-year medical student on his family medicine rotation says to me, “I really like what you do, but I just cannot afford to go into family practice.”  I realized that by “afford,” he was referring not only to finances but also to the expectations of his parents, friends, and medical school. After spending 35 wonderful years as a family doctor, I have been “dissed’ by a kid who wants to become a dermatologist.

So I am of two minds.  Part of me is fulfilled by being needed, loved, and respected by my patients.

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An Open Letter To Primary Care Physicians

Paul M. Fischer and Brian Klepper

If you agree with this letter, please redistribute, particularly to other primary care physicians.

Friends:

As many of you know, we have developed an effort to shine a bright light on the Relative Value Scale Update Committee, or RUC. This site provides a wealth of expert background information, and we’re working now to get more visibility on this issue.

A specialist-dominated panel within the AMA, the RUC is little known and under-appreciated, but extremely powerful and opaque. More important, through its longstanding relationship with CMS, it is central to the explosion in health care costs over the past 20 years, why primary care physicians are paid so poorly compared to their specialist colleagues and why few medical students now choose to enter primary care as a career. Meaningfully address the RUC, and you relieve America of more health system waste than all the cost control measures in the health care reform law combined.

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