How the AMA Has Undermined Primary Care

August 26, 2017
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While, in other developed nations, 70-80 percent of all physicians are generalists and 20-30 percent are specialists, in America the ratio is reversed, the result of a payment system, the Resource-based Relative Value Scale (RBRVS), that was originally intended to account for and financially lessen the differences between specialties. Instead, RBRVS has evolved to reward expensive care and penalize proactive management, even though the data are unequivocal that higher percentages of primary care within a community results in healthier, lower cost populations

In a June 2007 Annals of Internal Medicine article…Bodenheimer et al, provide this example:

Under the RBRVS system, the 2005 Medicare fee for a typical 25- to 30-minute office visit to a primary care physician in Chicago was $89.64 for a patient with a complex medical condition…. The 2005 Medicare fee was $226.63 for a gastroenterologist in the outpatient department of a Chicago hospital performing a colonoscopy … which is of similar duration to the office visit. Colonoscopy performed in a private office in Chicago, which differs from the hospital setting because the gastroenterologist pays for equipment and nursing time, would cost $422.90…

Under the auspices of the AMA and in alliance with CMS [RBRVS codes] appear to have played a direct role in the current primary care crisis by driving policy that financially favored specialty care at the expense of primary care.