Thursday, August 28, 2014

The RUC. "an Independent Group of Physicians?" - But It Includes Executives and Board Members of For-Profit Health Care Corporations and Large Hospital Systems


We just discussed how a major story in Politico has once again drawn attention to the opaque RUC (Resource Based Relative Value System Update Committee) and its important role in determining what physicians are paid for different kinds of services, and hence the incentives that have helped make the US health care system so procedurally oriented.  (See the end of our last post for a summary of the complex issues that swirl around the RUC.)

The Politico article covered most of the bases, but notably omitted how the RUC may be tied to various large health care organizations, especially for-profit, and how the incentives it creates may benefit them. When the RUC membership first became public in 2011 due to efforts by Wall Street Journal reporters, I used internet searches to find that nearly half of the RUC members had conflicts of interest (look here).  Most of them were part-time paid consulting relationships, paid speaking engagements, and memberships on advisory boards involving drug, device, biotechnology and occasionally health insurance companies, or personal stock holdings in such companies.

In preparing my latest post, I found that to its credit, the AMA now makes the RUC membership more accessible (look here, free registration required.)  So I decided to check whether the current RUC roster still seems so conflicted.

As I did in 2011, I ran internet searches on all new RUC members since 2011, and updated searches on the continuing members.  Results are below.  Information new since 2011 is highlighted thus.  Note that I believe all the listed relationships are or were actual, but cannot rule out errors, especially given some RUC members have common names.  Any corrections are welcome.

The RUC Members and Their Financial Relationships

- Barbara S 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

-Margie Andreae MD
American Academy of Pediatrics
Ann Arbor, MI

Chief Medical Officer of Integrated Revenue Cycle and Billing Compliance, University of Michigan Health System, per University of Michigan Health System

- 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
Financial relationships with  The Medicines Company, Abbott Vascular, Conor Med Systems, Portola Pharmaceuticals, Schering Plough, AGA Medical, Astra Zeneca, Abiomed, Bristol Myers Squibb, Tryton Medical, Kai Pharmaceutical, Novartis (Grants or Research Support) per Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions Disclosure Summary

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

-Albert Bothe Jr MD
CPT Editorial Board
Danville PA

Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Geisinger Health Systems, per Geisinger

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

-C Scott Collins MD
American Academy of Dermatology
Rochester, MN

- Thomas P Cooper MD
American Urological Association
Everett, WA

General Partner, Aperture Venture Partners LLC, (health care focused venture capital firm) , per Aperture
Member, Board of Directors, Kindred Healthcare, per Kindred
Member, Board of Directors, Hanger Inc (orthotic and prosthetic care), per Hanger
Member, Board of Directors, IPC/ the Hospitalist Company, per IPC

-Anthony Hamm DC
Health Care Professional Advisory Committee
Goldsboro, NC

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

- 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

-Alan E Lazaroff MD
American Geriatrics Society
Denver, CO

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

Member, Physician Advisory Board, Aetna per Aetna 
Deputy Chief Medical Officer, American Cancer Society, per ACS

- Scott Manaker, MD, PhD
Practice Expense Subcommittee
Philadelphia, PA 2010

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

-William J Mangold Jr MD
American Medical Association
Tuscon, AZ

Vice President, Board Developer Inc (health care management consulting firm), per Board Developer
Senior Advisor, ADVI (health care management consulting firm), per ADVI
Member, Board of Directors, Sante (post-acute health care company), per Sante

-Geraldine B McGinty MD
American College of Radiology,
New York, NY

- 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

David H Regan MD
American Society of Clinical Oncology
Portland, OH

Payment from Cephalon in 2009 for $2200, per ProPublica search 

-Chad A Rubin MD
American College of Surgery
Columbia, SC

-Joseph R Schlecht
Pimrary Care Seat
Jenks, OK 

- 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

-Samuel D Smith MD
American Pediatric Surgical Association
Little Rock, AK

-Stanley Stead MD
American Society of Anesthesiologist
Encino, CA

J Allan Tucker MD
College of American Pathologists
Mobile, AL

- 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
Member, Medical and Scientific Committee, Pixium Vision Inc, per Pixium 
Member, Board of Directors, Macusight Inc, per BusinessWeek.  


The membership of the RUC continues to have a considerable number of apparent financial conflicts of interest.  By my count, in 2014, nearly half, 15/31 members had such conflicts.

Again, most of the conflicts were financial ties such as part-time paid consulting relationships, paid speaking engagements, and memberships on advisory boards involving drug, device, biotechnology and occasionally health insurance companies, or personal stock holdings in such companies.  A number of members who had such ties known in 2011 have several more such ties in 2014. 

In 2014, new kinds of conflicts of interest that appear even more intense have appeared.  Several members are now known to also be members of the boards of directors of for-profit health care corporations, including biotechnology, device, health care provider, and health care management services companies. 

We have been writing about the severe conflicts of interest presented by service on the boards of  health care corporationa.  In 2006 we first discussed a newly discovered species of conflict of interest in health care, in which leaders of medical or health care organizations were simultaneously serving on boards of directors of health care corporations.
We posited these conflicts would be particularly important because being on the board of directors entails not just a financial incentive.  It ostensibly requires board members to "demonstrate unyielding loyalty to the company's shareholders" [Per Monks RAG, Minow N. Corporate Governance, 3rd edition. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. P.200.]  Of course, after the global financial collapse of 2008 made us sadder and a little wiser, we realized that many board members actually seem to have unyielding loyalty to their cronies among top management.  However, in any case, the stated or actual interests of a member of the board of a health care corporation, like a pharmaceutical company or medical device company, could be very different and at odds with the mission of an academic medical institution or a non-profit ostensibly dedicated to improving health care quality, like in this case, the RUC of the American Medical Association.

Also, one new RUC member is apparently a top executive of a health care management services company, and another new RUC member is apparently a general partner of a health care venture capital firm. Again, such leadership roles create responsibilities that could be very much at odds with a leadership role in a very influential committee run by a physicians' society.

Finally, two new members are top executives of large, although admittedly non-profit hospital systems.  One member is now known to be a full-time executive of a large, non-profit disease specific patient advocacy organization.  While hospital systems' interests may overlap those of physicians, modern  hospital systems are often run by generic managers who put revenues ahead of all else.  Furthermore, in pursuit of revenues, hospital system leaders may be very interested in increasing utilization of the most lucrative, usually high-technology and procedural services, and thus in structuring physicians' incentives accordingly.  While disease-specific patient advocacy goups' interests may also overlap those of doctors, they may tend to be more interested in their diseases than all others.

By the way, note that AMA and RUC leaders often defend the RUC as purely physician run organization, e.g., the testimony of the RUC leader, Dr Barbara Levy, at a Senate hearing, per MedPage Today in 2011, (see this post),

The RUC is an independent group of physicians from many specialties, including primary care, who use their expertise on caring for Medicare patients to provide input to CMS [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services],' RUC chair Barbara Levy, MD, said in a statement. 

But now it is clear that the RUC includes corporate executives and board members, and top hospital system executives.  These people may have MDs, but their loyalties appear divided.

We have questioned the tremendously influential role the RUC plays in setting the incentives that drive the US health care system.  Now it appears that the RUC membership remains conflicted.  Almost half work part-time for drug, device, biotechnology, and health insurance companies.  Several are in the top leadership and/or governance of various health care corporations and large non-profit hospital systems.  Thus it seems that the incentives that drive are health care system are under the influence of people who may put corporate or organizational revenue ahead of patients' and the public's health.

As we wrote before, 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 a first step, I submit that all RUC members who are executives or board members of for-profit health care corporations or large hospital systems step down from the RUC, or resign these positions.

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