Tuesday, April 26, 2011

RUCing About - Conflicts of Interest Affecting the Members of the RBRVS Update Committee

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). 

Recently, the leaders of Replace the RUC scored a journalistic coup by putting the current list of RUC members publicly on-line.  As we have discussed, previously the membership of this committee was kept very obscure, although the committee argued it was not exactly secret. 

Some Google searching suggests one possible reason that the RUC was in no hurry to disclose its own membership.  It appears that many of the RUC members have significant conflicts of interest with respect to their roles as de facto setters of the rates at which physicians are paid by the government.

The RUC Members and Their Financial Relationships

Below is the list of the current RUC membership (from this link), and relevant conflicts of interest obtained by Google searching.  Note that for each member, I first give the name, affiliation relevant to the RUC, location, and first year of membership as provided by the link above.  Then I list relevant financial relationships that appear to present conflicts of interest.

- Barbara Levy, MD

Chair, RVS Update Committee
Federal Way, WA 2000

Consultant/Advisory Boards: Conceptus; AMS; Covidien; Halt Medical; Gynesonics; Idoman Medical (hysteroscopic surgery and sterilization, endometrial ablation, electrosurgery, vaginal hysterectomy) per UptoDate

- Bibb Allen, Jr., MD
American College of Radiology (ACR)
Birmingham, AL 2006

- Michael D. Bishop, MD
American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP)
Bloomington, IN 2003

- James Blankenship, MD
American College of Cardiology (ACC)
Danville, PA 2000

Lecture fees from Sanofi-Aventis per New England Journal of Medicine

- Robert Dale Blasier, MD
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)
Little Rock, AK 2008

- Joel Bradley, MD
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
Brentwood, TN 2008

Medical Director, Americhoice by UnitedHealthcare, per AAP conference brochure

- Ronald Burd, MD
American Psychiatric Association (APA)
Fargo, ND 2006

- William F. Gee, MD
American Urological Association (AUA)
Lexington, KY 2010

Member, Physician Advisory Board, Aetna per Aetna

- John O. Gage, MD
American College of Surgeons (ACS)
Pensacola, FL 1991

- David F. Hitzeman, DO
American Osteopathic Association (AOA)
Tulsa, OK 1996

- Peter A. Hollmann, MD
CPT Editorial Panel (AMA/CPT)
Providence, RI 2003

Medical Director, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island, per RI Medical Society

- Charles F. Koopmann, Jr., MD
American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS)
Ann Arbor, MI 1996

- Robert Kossmann, MD
Renal Physicians Association (RPA)
Santa Fe, NM 2009

Member of Advanced Renal Technologies Advisory Board, Network 15 Medical Advisory Board, Baxter Home Dialysis Advisory Board, Fresenius Medical Advisory Board per Renal Physicians Association

- Walter Larimore, MD
American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP)
Colorado Springs, CO 2009

- Brenda Lewis, DO
American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA)
Cleveland, OH 2009

- J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD
American College of Physicians (ACP)
Atlanta, GA 1994

Member, Physician Advisory Board, Aetna per Aetna

- Scott Manaker, MD, PhD
American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP)
Philadelphia, PA 2010

Consultant to Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson. Owns stock in Neose Technologies, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Rohm and Haas per Chest

- Bill Moran, MD
Practice Expense Review Committee
Oklahoma City, OK 2000

- Guy Orangio, MD
American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS)
Atlanta, GA 2009

- Gregory Przybylski, MD
American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS)
Edison, NJ 2001

Stock Ownership: United Healthcare (300 shares);  ...  Scientific Advisory Board: United Health Group (B, Spine Advisory Board) per NASS meeting

- Marc Raphaelson, MD
American Academy of Neurology (AAN)
Leesburg, VA 2009

personal compensation for activities with Jazz Pharmaceuticals and Medtronics as a speakers bureau member or consultant per AAN

- Sandra Reed, MD
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)
Thomasville, GA 2009

GlaxoSmithKline Consulting, $1750 in 2009, $1500 in 2010 per ProPublica Dollars for Docs search through here

- Daniel Mark Siegel, MD
American Academy of Dermatology (AAD)
Brooklyn, NY 2003

Vivacare Dermatology Advisory Board, 2006 – present. Photomedex Scientific Advisory Board, 2006-present, Ad Hoc consultant to ClickDiagnostics, per Encite CV
DermFirst-Shareholder, Logical Image – Consultant, Vivacare - Consultant per MOHS Surgery

- Lloyd S. Smith, DPM
Health Care Professionals Advisory Committee
Bethesda, MD 2007

- Peter Smith, MD
Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS)
Durham, NC 2006

Eli Lilly, Consulting, $1500 in 2009, $1990 in 2010 per Pro Publica Dollars for Docs search through here
Advisor or consultant to Bayer per Medscape

- Susan Spires, MD
College of American Pathologists (CAP)
Lexington, KY 2007

- Arthur Traugott, MD
American Medical Association (AMA)
Champaign, IL 2006

- James Waldorf, MD
American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS)
Jacksonville, FL 2008

- George Williams, MD
American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO)
Royal Oak, MI 2009

Advisory Team, RetroSense Therapeutics
Shareholder and consultant for ThromboGenics Ltd. and holds intellectual property on the use of plasmin per Review of Opthamology
Alcon Laboratories, consultant, lecturer; Allergan, consultant, lecturer; Macusight, consultant, equity owner; Neurotech, consultant; Nu-Vue Technologies, equity owner, patent/ royalties; OMIC- Ophthalmic Mutual Insurance Company, employee; Optimedica, consultant, equity owner; Thrombogenics, consultant, equity owner per AAO meeting
Pfizer, “Professional Advising,” $5534 in 2009 per Pro Publica Dollars for Docs search through here


There you have it.  A substantial proportion, almost half, 14 of 29 members of the RUC have financial relationships with pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology companies, device companies, companies that directly provide health care, and health care insurance companies. 

As we have noted in our previous discussions of the RUC, that committee has been accused of being the de facto controller of how the US government pays physicians.  In that role, it has been accused of favoring procedural care rather than cognitive or primary care by increasing the relative financial incentives for the former over the latter.  This may be one of the most important reasons for the expensive, high-technology, procedural-heavy style of care in the US, which has likely been a major driver for increasing costs, declining access and stagnant quality.

It seemed obvious that a committee dominated by a majority of physicians who perform procedures would tend to favor bigger financial incentives for procedures.  But now it appears the committee also includes a substantial number of people who work part-time or have ownership interests in companies that also stand to benefit from increasing use of procedures.  Procedures drive increased consumption of drugs, supplies and devices, and lead to larger revenue for hospitals and clinics.  Thus these financial relationships could reasonably be suspected of even further distorting the committee's decision-making in favor of procedures.

I was surprised how many RUC members have financial ties to health care insurance companies.  Such companies are not usually thought of as beneficiaries of high-technology, procedural care.  However, if one conceives of their revenue as a percentage of health care costs, perhaps they are.  Furthermore, one can only wonder if the links between the RUC and health care insurance companies have anything to do with how such companies have apparently unquestioningly adapted the RBRVS system controlled by the RUC?

The prevalence of conflicts of interest among RUC members highlight the need for a more accountable, transparent and honest system to manage how the government pays physicians, and a need for more transparency and accountability in the relationship among the government, health care insurance, and physicians.

 As we have previously noted,  there are still many unanswered questions about the RUC:

- How did the government come to fix the payments physicians receive? Government price-fixing has not been popular in the US, yet this has caused no outcry.
- Why is the process by which they are fixed allowed to be so opaque and unaccountable? Why are there no public hearings on the updates, and why is there no input from practicing physicians or organizations other than those related to the RUC?
- How did the RUC become de facto in charge of this process?
- Why does the AMA [keep the membership of the RUC so opaque, and] give no input into the RUC process to its general membership?
- Why is the RUC membership so dominated by procedural specialists? Why were primary care physicians, who made up at least a sizable minority of physicians when the update process was started, not represented according to their numbers?
- Why has there been so little discussion of the RUC and its responsibility for an extremely expensive health care system dominated by high-technology, expensive, risky and invasive procedures?

Stay tuned, maybe these will be answered in our life-times....


Anonymous said...

Where there's smoke, there's fire...

Your conflicts list may be very incomplete. Maybe the RUC members would care to do a complete disclosure of their conflicts of interest?

Roy M. Poses MD said...

I am reasonably certain of the conflicts I did identify. See the URLs cited above.

However, as anonymous said, I have no idea how many other conflicts affecting the RUC members exist that I was not able to identify.

Nor did I address the institutional conflicts of interest affecting the organizations that sponsor the individual members.

Judy B said...

More appalling evidence of what is and continues to be wrong with the whole American medical industry!

Afraid said...

"Nor did I address the institutional conflicts of interest affecting the organizations that sponsor the individual members."

I would say that this is more important. Frankly, I see a $1500 stipend as having limited impact on these vastly wealthy folks.

But the source of their vast wealth is from (directly or indirectly) their institutions. Again, its another instance of scratch our backs we scratch yours.

These are the rules of the game:
- Help your institution and get rewarded.
- Help them a lot, get rewarded a lot, sometimes from their friends.
- Help the friends, who help the institution and reap even bigger rewards, most times at arms length, and sometimes from insider trading of equities or other instruments (see the realestate transactions involving these folks, please -- especially the ones where the rewardee hold the property for just a short time and makes a big return!)
- Get caught being unethical, get cover from your institution or at worst a big severence payment.
- Move on to the next institution anxious to have you help them like you did the last one.

The institutions and leadership themselves never really pay a price for the behavior they encourage. Infact just the opposite, they point to all the money as say they must be doing something right!