Friday, January 20, 2017

ABIM Stationary Sidebars: MOC and UCSF

I attended the University of California, San Francisco's (UCSF) electrophysiology program from 1993-1994. As I continue to explore the myriad of conflicts of interest inherent to the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program, it has come as quite a surprise to me that so many members of my alma mater (and the institution itself) were either passive or active participants in  the strongman tactics used by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) as a "message and deterrent" (as explained by former President and CEO of the ABIM, Christine Cassel, MD) to control the ABIM/ABMS monopoly on continuing medical education in the United States.

Let me explain.

In a retaliatory letter dated May 8, 2012, authored by Ms. Lynn Landon, the non-physician Chief Operating Officer of the ABIM at the time, Jaime Salas-Rushford, MD was accused of forwarding, prior to ever taking the ABIM Board certification exam, board review questions to the ABIM-certified instructor of the CME-accredited Arora Board Review course. About three years after the fact and after 139 others had already been sued or sanctioned for attending the same course (or at the very least, like a flashback to the McCarthy era, had warning letters "added to their file") this retaliatory letter declared that ABIM imposed an immediate, unlimited revocation of Board certification of Dr. Sala-Rushford and to "notify the Medical Board in every jurisdiction in which you are licensed" without due process.

On the stationary sidebar of that letter appear the names of the officers of the ABIM and it’s board members at the time: Chair Catherine R Lucey, MD, Chair-Elect Robert M Wachter, MD, Secretary-Treasurer Talmadge E King, MD, and President and CEO Christine Cassel, MD among others. Were these leaders listed in the sidebar mere figureheads of the ABIM when this occurred or were they ultimately responsible for the organizations' actions as their positions suggest?

It is remarkable that three of the above senior ABIM leaders were on staff at UCSF at the time. These same individuals now hold significant leadership positions at the USCF medical school. Dr. King serves as Dean of the UCSF Medical School since 26 May 2015, Dr. Lucey as the Vice Dean for Education, and Dr. Wachter serves as Professor and Chair of the Department of Medicine. In addition to their current academic positions at UCSF, these same individuals hold leadership in other organizations within the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME):
  • Dr. Lucey serves as an at-large board member of the American Board of Medical Specialties 2016-2017 and on the Board of Directors of the of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

  • Dr. King has a long history of serving on the Board of Directors of the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) from 2010-2017 as an unpaid board member and currently works alongside the organization’s founder and President, Ms. Margaret E. O’Kane. Remember that NCQA, under Ms. O'Kane's direction, developed, maintained, and expanded the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS), the nation's most widely used quality measurement tool and has grown to a $50 million company with almost 300 employees. NCQA is also the main accreditor of recognized medical homes and one of two accrediting organizations permitted by federal law to accredit plans in the new health insurance exchange marketplaces that came online October 1, 2010, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Because the NCQA also credentials insurance providers as part of the ACA, one insurer quality metric they created requires physicians to "maintain" their certification via ABMS MOC programs if they want to receive payments from those insurers. Furthermore, the NCQA and the ABMS will continue to directly benefit from "quality" rules that they have put into place and lobbied Congress to enact laws such as the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). MACRA's Merit-based Incentive Performance is MOC on steroids (see comments to the final rule). While NCQA maintains the quality measurement tool that is used in MACRA to determine US physician pay based on their notion of care "value," much of the NCQA's own IRS 2015 Form 990 is redacted. Who is protecting our patients' interests when even the IRS allows this to occur?

  • Dr. Wachter has his own financial conflicts with MOC that also benefitted the UCSF. According to IRS Form 990's, in 2012 when the above sanction letter was issued, Dr. Wachter served as 'Director-Chair" of the ABIM earning $38,888 from the ABIM and $6,626 from the ABIM Foundation.

    While serving as "Director-Chair" of the ABIM and Director of the ABIM Foundation, Dr. Wachter was also simultaneously serving as Director of the IPC The Hospitalist Company, Inc, reportedly running a “leadership development course (at UCSF) for their practice group leaders.” Dr. Wachter's financial haul from his relationship with IPC was significant. He pocketed 1,355 shares of IPC stock valued at $50.68 on 1 Aug 2013 and another 2650 shares of stock valued at $58.50 on 2 January 2014. According to SEC filings, he earned $210,586 in 2014 ($ 108,000 as cash, $ 55,000 in stock and $ 47,526 in options). USCF benefitted from a fellowship grant with IPC brokered by Dr. Wachter that began sometime in 2010 or 2011 (Dr. Wachter's description of the program was published on his blog 18 November 2011.) On 17 June 2014, the Department of Justice filed suit against IPC Hospitalist Company alleging the company overbilled federal health insurance systems for physician evaluation and services. Nonetheless, it appears Dr. Wachter still received a stock option award of 2186 shares of IPC on 2 Jan 2015. Undeterred by the DOJ suit (or perhaps because of it), TeamHealth acquired IPC Hospitalist Company for hefty $80.25 per share on 23 Nov 2015, again profiting Dr. Wachter and UCSF (with whom he had a publicly-disclosed sharing agreement where he kept 80% and UCSF received 20% of this relationship). As of 17 Jan 2017, it appears a settlement agreement in the DOJ's suit against IPC The Hospitalist Company will be reached soon. In retrospect, watching Dr. Wachter doing an Elvis impersonation at Mandalay Casino in Las Vegas on behalf of corporate medicine at patients' expense with the tacit approval of the Dean of the UCSF Medical School reflects poorly on the University. These activities also serve to erode any remaining trust practicing physicians have on the unproven ABMS MOC program to serve in our patients' best interest.
It is remarkably coincidental that on 27 December 2012, an article appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine by one of Wachter’s colleagues at UCSF, Robert B. Baron, MD written in conjunction with John Iglehart, a “national correspondent” for the New England Journal of Medicine, explaining the controversy surrounding MOC and reinforcing the need for it. Dr. Robert Baron (no relation to Richard Baron, MD of the ABIM) never disclosed his simultaneous collegial associations with so many in leadership positions of the ABIM at the time, nor did either author mention the fact that the "NEJM Group" would be announced in March, 2013 to profit the Massachusetts Medical Society that included the launch of their Knowledge+ Maintenance of Certification “state-of-the-art adaptive learning” educational product April 16, 2014.

Who wouldn't want to join such a financial and reputational party bestowed upon these former ABIM leadership physicians? What medical center wouldn't like to benefit from the ABMS MOC system so many from UCSF have? How many other institutions are? Given what we now know about these colluding private organizations and their ethical and financial tactics, why haven't these respected leaders come forward to denounce the activities of the ABIM for which they served? Perhaps these leaders are fearful UCSF would lose their ACGME accreditation as a teaching institution eligible for additional Medicare training funds if they did. Or perhaps these individuals saw little risk of collateral damage to their professional reputation if ABIM used its strongman tactics against a small number of vulnerable, less prominent physician colleagues.

The irony of the ABIM requiring doctor clients of Arora Board Review subject to the sting operation organized by an undisclosed convicted felon to participate in “ethics” courses and pay additional fees to the ABIM before their board certification credential could be reinstated should be lost on no one.

According to USCF's own Faculty Code of Conduct: "The integrity of the faculty-student relationship is the foundation of the University’s educational mission. This relationship vests considerable trust in the faculty member, who, in turn, bears authority and accountability as mentor, educator, and evaluator. The unequal institutional power inherent in this relationship heightens the vulnerability of the student and the potential for coercion. The pedagogical relationship between faculty member and student must be protected from influences or activities that can interfere with learning consistent with the goals and ideals of the University." I would argue that the unequal institutional power carried by the ABIM (and other ABMS member boards) that can revoke a physician's ability to practice or earn a living on the basis of an unproven repeated testing is even larger and warrants even greater scrutiny.

It is clear that the complex financial interrelations of many tax-exempt private organizations that require the ABMS MOC credential have developed over the years to monopolize the physician continuing education process. In my opinion, it is far too coincidental that all of these physicians a single institution just happened to hold unelected leadership positions in so many of these interrelated private entities that financially benefit from MOC at the same time. I also believe the fact that another physician from the same institution published a manuscript in the New England Journal of Medicine while his colleagues stood to benefit politically and financially from their positions gives the appearance of collusion. I believe the UC Board of Regents, Attorney General of California, and/or even the Governor of California have a responsibility to investigate the use of public monies and academic positions to benefit these many non-governmental private entities that act outside of University responsibilities and act, as one independent journalist described them, "more akin to a protection racquet."

The ABMS Maintenance of Certification controversy and those culpable for its strongman tactics extends far further than just the ABIM. When respected leaders of the academic community fail to speak out about the irresponsible activities that occurred during their tenure with the organization, I believe they passively condone them. I suspect this is why we have heard little from other members of the academic community since the collusion extends to current board members of the NCQA, AAMC, ABMS, the New England Journal of Medicine, and other prominent academic institutions like UCSF.

Practicing US physicians voted to end the ABMS MOC program before the AMA House of Delegates meeting in June 2016 because of the unexplained financial dealings and the strongman tactics employed by the organization, yet it continues, even now. This no longer surprises us since the AMA is a member organization of the ACGME, too.

How high do the conflicts go in the US medical education system?

It is now clear they go all the way to the top. It is also clear why.

It's time for the AMA to shut the ABMS MOC program down as practicing US physicians have voted because it's doing more harm than good, not only to reputable practicing US physicians nationwide, but to their patients and academic institutions (like my alma mater) that purport to train and educate physicians to become ethical, hard-working, trustworthy doctors without fear of reprisal for educating themselves any way they choose.

-Wes

Disclaimer: I serve as an expert witness on behalf of Jaime Salas-Rushford, MD.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Will Fraud Investigators Read the New England Journal of Medicine?

The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services took great pride in publishing a video at the end of 2016 heralding all their accomplishments for the year.

We might 2017 bring?

The OIG of HHS should consider reviewing the comments section (pdf of comments here) in response to the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) promotional article by Richard Baron, MD and Clarence H. Braddock,  III, MD in the New England Journal of Medicine to start their year off with a bang when seeking to root out sources of waste, fraud, and abuse in the US healthcare system.

There should also be a full investigation of the research protocols and informed consent used by the ABIM to conduct research on physicians "to improve US healthcare" and the security measures employed to protect the integrity of the data they collected on physicians.  Sending survey results over a non-secure website link (http://survey.abim.org) hardly satisfies even the most minimal data security requirements to protect the information submitted on physicians!

Physicians want (and deserve) answers about this corrupt program and they want it to end, not modified or "improved." Until the ACGME, NCQA, AMA, AAMC, and each of the 24-member boards of the ABMS understands this and takes meaningful action to end this monopoly on our continuing educational system, pressure by practicing physicians to force an end to MOC will continue.

-Wes


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Physician Burnout and MOC: Treating the Cause, Not the Symptoms

This brilliant essay appeared in Practical Neurology Nov/Dec 2016 issue by Paul G. Mathew, MD, FAAN, FAHS. Dr. Mathew is on staff in the Department of Neurology and is Director of Continuing Medical Education at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, John R. Graham Headache Center, and staff neurologist at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and the Cambridge Health Alliance. He  also serves as the neurology representative on the volunteer advisory board of the National Board of Physicians and Surgeons. 

Here's a brief example:

WHAT DO PRIVATE PAYERS GAIN FROM REQUIRING MOC?

As a volunteer board member of NBPAS (no compensation or honorarium as opposed to the salaries of ABMS board members, which can range from $300,000 to greater than $800,000), I have often wondered why private payers require MOC when Medicare does not require board certification or MOC. The answer is quite disturbing. Private payers actually participate in certification, which is issued by the National Committee of Quality Assurance (NCQA). Margaret E. O’Kane is the founder and president of the NCQA, and she is also a member of the ABMS Board of Directors. The NCQA requires private payers to require physicians to participate in MOC in order to be NCQA certified. Thus, anyone contracting with a private payer will require MOC. In the conflicted case of Ms. O’Kane, she profits from the NCQA requiring private payers to require physicians to participate in MOC, and then she profits again from her ABMS position when said physicians must pay to comply with MOC requirements.

Read the whole thing.

Dr. Mathew will be giving Neurology Grand Rounds at Michigan State University/Sparrow entitled "Maintenance of Certification: Reform or Reboot?" on 13 Jan 2017 from 07:30-08:30 AM EST. All are welcome to attend.

-Wes

Friday, December 16, 2016

Philadelphia Medicine Magazine's ABIM Issue



An entire issue of Philadelphia Medicine magazine devoted to the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM), (pdf  here) and the ABIM wouldn't respond other than to say:
"We do not feel that this format appropriately presents the variety of viewpoints about MOC."

The magazine attempted to invite Richard Baron, MD to give the ABIM's side of the story but he declined. This speaks volumes.

-Wes

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

ABMS/ABIM MOC Controversy: 2016 Year-in-Review

It's hard to believe that another year has come and gone since my 2015 update on the ABMS/ABIM Maintenanence of Certification controversy. I thought it would be important to maintain this chronological annual review of the ABIM and their conspiring organizations to keep physicians and the public apprised of the situation unfolding. Here is the timeline of the major developments regarding the ABIM MOC controversy for the past year so far:*

  • 12 Jan 2016 - All ABIM archived webpages published after 1 Jan 2014 are removed from the internet archive Wayback Machine at http://www.archive.org

  • 13 Jan 2016 - More evidence for improper research practices used at ABIM surface on the ABIM website as physicians are asked to "update their profile" so the ABIM can research ways to "improve health care." ABIM diplomates are not informed on the research being conducted nor have they been given informed consent about the research activities being conducted.

  • 21 Jan 2016 - ABIM Foundation publicly discloses for the first time $56 million in transfers (unverified) from ABIM since 1990.

  • 26 January 2016 - Robert Wachter, MD, former Chairman of the Board of the ABIM and its Foundation, publishes a New York Times opinion piece entitled "How Measurement Fails Doctors and Teachers" and suggests "the secret of quality is love." With the article, Wachter  fails to disclose his own conflicts with the "measurement industry" at the ABIM and ABIM Foundation and the stock earnings he received from IPC Hospitalist Company (later acquired by TeamHealth) that is under federal investigation for overbilling Medicare.

  • 16 Feb 2016 - The website DoctorsJustice.com goes live to support the legal defense and countersuit of Jamie Salas-Rushford, MD, a Puerto Rican physician sanctioned and then sued by the ABIM in 2012 for allegedly disclosing ABIM test questions to Rajender Arora, MD, the creator of the now defunct ACGME-accreditied Arora Board Review courses as he studied for his certification examination. Numerous sanction letters and court documents against Dr. Salas Rushford appear online.

  • 8 March 2016 - The peer-reviewed journal article, "Medical Specialty Certification in the US - A False Idol?" is published.

  • 11 March 2016 - Like the practicing physicians' anti-MOC activities underway, medical students push back against another unneccessary and expensive testing requirement: the National Board of Medical Examiners' Step 2 CS requirement.

  • 12 March 2016 - The sworn testimony of Rajender Arora, MD of the ABIM's raid on his home by Federal Marshals appears online and offers remarkable details of the operation ABIM used to gain access to hundreds of review course attendees' personal information and email accounts.

  • 1 April 2016 - Robert Wachter's industry-sponsored blog, Wachter's World, disappears from the internet. Recall that Wachter's company, IPC The Hospitalist Company, for which he served as director and received 3,995 shares of stock valued between $50.68 and $58.50 per share, was sued by the Department of Justice for was overbilling federal insurance providers. The company was later acquired by TeamHealth 23 Nov 2015 for $80.25 a share, netting him and his University, the University of California, San Francisco (with whom he had a sharing agreement with), a comfortable profit.

  • 26 April 2016 - Oklahoma passes comprehensive anti-ABMS MOC legislation and ABMS responds.

  • 10 May 2016 - More changes to the ABIM MOC program to be implemented 1 Jan 2018 that includes more frequent testing are announced.

  • 12 May 2016 - Public disclosure of American College of Physician's Executive Vice President Steven E. Weinberger, MD's upcoming retirement appears.

  • 13 May 2016 - ABIM posts June 30, 2015 Form 990s. ABIM Foundation reports correct year and state of incorporation after six years of inaccurate reporting.

  • 20 May 2016 - The ABIM Foundation moves $6.5 million of diplomate testing fees offshore to the Cayman Islands in fiscal year 2015.

  • 9 June 2016 - The dark story of ABIM's felonious "Director of Investigations" and the strongman tactics used by the organization against economically vulnerable physicians is reported.

  • 14 June 2016 - Scott Shapiro, MD, Bonnie Weiner, MD, Charles Cutler, MD, myself, and Mr. Charles P. Kroll appear before the AMA House of Delegates meeting in Chicago to deliver our evidence supporting financial and professional mismanagement at the ABIM that culminated in the Pennsylvania Medical Society issuing a formal "vote of no confidence" against the ABIM.

  • 16 June 2016 - The AMA membership presses for an immediate end to MOC.

  • 2 July 2016 - Expanding investigations of other member boards of the American Board of Pediatrics reveals retired President and CEO of the American Board of Pediatrics, James A. Stockman, III, MD earned $793,438 working just eight hours a work-week as an "advisor."

  • 10 July 2016 - ABIM Foundation sells its controversial luxury downtown Philaelphia condominium at an estimated $1.2 million loss.

  • 21 July 2016 - The untold story of three ABIM-sanctioned physicians appears that chronicals the humiliation, ethics course requirements, and a $5000 check one of them had to pay ABIM to reinstate their certification.

  • 2 August 2016 - Several doctors of osteopathy file a class action lawsuit against the American Osteopathic Association seeking to recover millions of dollars in annual membership fees that the doctors allege they have been forced to pay for years to the organization to maintain their certification.

  • 4 August 2016 - ABIM Foundation shifts from defining and promoting "medical professionalism" to "co-creating" health care.

  • 5 August 2016 - Medical Economics publishes MOC promotional piece by Richard Baron, MD, President and CEO of the ABIM, then asks for a physician rebuttal via its Twitter feed. After writing the rebuttal at their request, Medical Economics refuses to publish it. The rebuttal is published on these pages and received over 10,000 page views within 48 hours.

  • 24 September 2016 - Retirement plan and change in audit firm disclosed publicly for the first time: value of ABIM's 100% employer funded Retirement Plan now exceeds combined value of ABIM and Foundation accumulated since 1936 (ABIM) and 1989 (Foundation).

  • 28 September 2016 - My 22-minute talk on "Why MOC is Broken and How to Fix It,  delivered at the AAPS meeting in Oklahoma City, appears (video).

  • 16 October 2016 - How the major medical journals, including JAMA and the New England Journal of Medicine, shield ABMS authors' conflicts of interest via IRS Form 990 tax filings and do not report these conflicts (and their own conflicts with the program) in their journals.

  • 16 October 2016 - The California Medial Society holds a debate between Lois Margaret Nora, MD, JD, CEO of the American Board of Medical Specialties and Paul Teirstein, MD, the unpaid President and CEO of the National Board of Physician and Surgeons. Attempts to shorten Teirstein's talk by the moderators are shouted down and Teirstein delivers his 14-minute talk and then receives a standing ovation (video).

  • 27 October 2016 - Press release announcing the retirement of ABMS President and CEO, Margaret Lois Nora, MD, JD appears.

  • 28 October 2016 - Mayo Clinic Proceedings publishes a survey on MOC with editorial commentary by James C. Puffer, MD, the President of the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM), yet fails to disclose the ABFM's financial conflicts with MOC that includes running ABFM Realty, LLC, a firm that manages a $4.2 million office building purchased with ABFM diplomate testing fees in 2012.

  • 11 November 2016 - ABIM certification scoring methods that changed pass rate cut-offs are disclosed.

  • 14 November 2016 - Resolution 607 re: request for independent ABIM audit, passes in AMA House of Delegates.

  • 21 November 2016 - Letter from the American Board of Anesthesia threatening to report a physicians' certification status as "Not Participating in MOCA" if he does not pay for and complete their MOCA-Minute program by 21 December 2016 appears. (The impact on the physicians' ability to receive payment from insurers if this occurs is not mentioned).

  • 1 December 2016 - New England Journal of Medicine publishes "Knowing What We Don't Know - Improving Maintenance of Certification" by Richard Baron, MD and Clarence H. Braddock, III, MD, MPH, both employees of the American Board of Internal Medicine, and fails to allow comments or rebuttal, and (once again) fails to disclose the Journal's conflict of interest with the program.

  • 2 Deceember 2016 - The American College of Cardiology sends an email to all of its members announcing their collaboration with Part IV of MOC program and their approval as a Portfolio Program Sponsor by ABMS.

  • 16 Deceember 2016 - Philadelphia Medicine magazine publishes issue dedicated to ABIM. ABIM declines to contribute, stating "We do not feel that this format appropriately presents the variety of viewpoints about MOC." (PDF of entire issue available here.)

-Wes

*Additional updates to this timeline with be made for the remainder of December as needed or if other newsworthy events were missed.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Chicago's Cold December Game Plan

In June 2016, "Chicago" had a problem. A small renegade group of doctors had uncovered some dirty secrets about the Chicago-based American Medical Association's (AMA) subordinate organizations, the Philadelphia-based American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) and its Chicago-based mothership, the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). Action was needed. It would have to be invisible to the lay public. It would take a slick, well-coordinated game plan. It would also take some money. People don't mess with The Chicago Machine.

The major players assembled in the room to get some background on the problem. They'd have to understand the depth and breadth of what was known before they could structure a counter-offensive using every option at their disposal: ties to leadership at medical journals, public relations groups, finely-tuned email lists, and buy-in from like-minded medical societies who needed the AMA's political clout on Capital Hill - the works.

There they were, all the major players in one room, looking less than happy to be there to hear me (of all people) and my colleagues who were rattled to our core at what had transpired in the bureaucratic House of Medicine for all these years.


The room took a while to fill at first, but as time for the presentations approached, they were standing room only. The early attendees looked a bit worried. Those arriving later appeared less concerned for time and money were on their side. Many of the dignitaries were introduced to me by Charles Cutler, MD, from the Pennsylvania Medical Society who had invited a few of us to attend: the President of the Board of the American Medical Association (AMA), the Executive Vice President of the American College of Physicians (ACP), members of some of the medical national medical societies. All in one room to hear me and Mr. Charles Kroll, a certified public account, give our little talks (seen here and here).

They listened intently. They asked no questions. They needed to think. Poor Lois Margaret Nora, MD tried to come to the microphone to defend her actions feebly. It was clear to them she was a liability. More senior veterans at this game would have to step in.

It was a time to marshall the considerable resources of Chicago's medical establishment's senior spin experts: the American Medical Association and their collaborators at the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education. They knew they could do this. After all, it had been done before when Thomas Brem, MD testified before Congress 30 April 1969 after he was paid from "Special Account No. 4" maintained by tobacco lobbyists. (See US District Court for the District of Columbia, United States of America v. Phillip Morris USA, Inc, et al., Case 1:99-cv-02496-GK Filed 8/17/06. Page 174 of 1683. Available at: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCOURTS-dcd-1_99-cv-02496/pdf/USCOURTS-dcd-1_99-cv-02496-4.pdf ) We are beginning to see telltale signs of a similar well-coordinated plan to forward a separate, non-patient care agenda against the practicing physicians who had grown restless.

First, the leadership recognized that change was needed. Dr. Steve Weinberger, Executive Vice President of the PhiladelphiaChicago-based ACP had heard enough and wisely wanted out. He could see the writing on the wall and had given plenty of time, energy and effort to the ACP. He announced his retirement. Lois Margaret Nora, MD, JD wanted to stay on but knew she couldn't. She, too, announced her retirement but was asked to stay on until the end of 2017 to help "smooth" the transition. Or to be a fall guy. (This is Chicago, remember.)

Second, a "go live" date had to be set. 1 December 2016, just before the new US President took office, would be perfect.

Third, an article would have to appear in the New England Journal of Medicine without an accompanying rebuttal article reaffirming the importance of MOC and how hard the ABIM are working to modify it. This article would serve as the "starting gun" for all that was to occur next. In turn, Richard Baron, MD would serve, once again, as sacrificial lamb and receive a "special fee" above and beyond $800,000-a-year ABIM salary in return for "publishing" the article (see the article's disclosures). Perhaps this was because Dr. Baron and Braddock didn't write a substantial part of the it, we can't be sure. Practicing physicians would be appalled by the piece containing many non-scientific assertions. It didn't matter. They liked the use of the example where anyone can become an ordained minister online to justify ABIM's unproven maintenance of certification program as a "solid," and "valuable" standard. No one would dare comment that the ABIM's secret, black-box antiquated questions (held secret behind a thin veil of threats of prosecution for leaking those "secrets") were any more "solid" or "valuable" than those "internet based" ministry credentials. Especially if the New England Journal of Medicine didn't allow comments. Furthermore, Baron and Braddock's must make board certification sound as though it was "always" supposed to be time-limited. No one must know that Walter Bierring, MD, the unpaid organizer and first officer of the ABIM never intended the test to become a mark of adequacy to practice medicine rather than an optional sign of excellence. (See: Bierring WL. The American Board of Internal Medicine. Ann Intern Med 1937 10(12):1746-1751.) Denis M. O’Day, MD and Mary R. Ladden, BA's peer-reviewed article on the history of board certification, published the criteria of the American Board of Medical Specialties member boards that stated their voluntary nature and the requirement their tests and programs NOT be tied to the ability of a physician to practice. And practicing physicians certainly should not know about the first recertification test, taken by internists on 26 October 1974,  recommended that "no one should lose their primary certification as a result of the examination."(Meskaukas JA and Webster JD, The American Board of Internal Medicine Recertification Examination: Process and Results. Ann Intern Med 1975 82: 577-581). To provide cover to these facts, Drs. Baron and Braddock must use ABIM's usual strongman tactics and threaten "escalating consequences for unsatisfactory performance over time" in their piece. And so it was.

Fourth, that evening after the New England Journal of Medicine article appears and people have a chance to digest it, a mass email must be sent to all members of the American College of Physicians announcing their "new pilot MOC program" in coordination with the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the ABIM that promised to "ease the burden and increase the relevance" of the ABIM MOC process. Specific details like time frame, cost, and methods must not be disclosed, however.

Fifth, more pressure must be applied. The AMA and the Committee of Medical Subspecialty Societies (based in Chicago) will coordinate with the American College of Cardiology to use the ACC's considerable financial and political clout to re-introduce the previously-suspended Part IV "Practice Improvement and Safety Modules" via an email to its members the following day. After all, it took a lot of lobbying to assure Part IV of the ABIM MOC program was woven into the new physician "value-based" payment scheme called the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). For their help, the ACC should be granted "Program Sponsor" status of the ABMS Multi-Specialty Portfolio Approval Program. The message to lowly physicians MUST be: "Participate in MOC or don't get paid, sucker!"

It all seemed like such a good idea at the time. Those pitiful physicians wouldn't stand a chance. The Chicago Machine was in charge. It would be easy to roll over those quiet, unassuming doctors with this plan once and for all!

And then the unimaginable happened. An unanticipated Presidential candidate won the election. Like BREXIT, the medical political establishment were caught completely off guard. None of them could imagine it happening. And even though larger and larger numbers of doctors weren't buying the propaganda of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and MOC any longer, the AMA, heavily invested in the ACA construct, stuck to their plan to strong-arm physicians with these MOC "modifications" anyway.

Practicing doctors and their patients have been waking up to what the medical establishment have done to the middle class and the practice of medicine in America. We've been slow to catch on thanks to the realities and time required for this thing called patient care, but the reality is profound.

Thanks to Maintenance of Certification, practicing doctors are not so easily fooled any longer and with a new sheriff in town, the Machine might just have to go to an alternate Plan B in January 2017 or face some serious consequences.

-Wes

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Knowing What We Don't Know

This week, Richard Baron, MD and Clarence H. Braddock, III, MD, MPH, both paid staff of the independent and unaccountable American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM), received more (free?) advertising space in the New England Journal of Medicine to publish their perspective piece entitled "Knowing What We Don't Know - Improving Maintenance of Certification." While my readers are welcome to read the piece, rest assured there is nothing new there except more unsubstantiated excuses to prop up this expensive, wasteful, and corrupt enterprise.

I believe these authors should be very clear that physicians are quite aware of "Knowing What They Don't Know" about Maintenance of Certification (MOC), the ABIM, their collaborators at the American Board of Medical Specialties.

Here's what we don't know:

1) Who wants Maintenance of Certification so badly that Drs Baron and Braddock are allowed to publish their promotional piece in the New England Journal of Medicine after US physicians have overwhelmingly voted to end MOC immediately in the June 2016 AMA House of Delegates meeting? We can hypothesize many possibilities:

  • The New England Journal of Medicine itself, who stands to profit from their Knowledge+ educational product for MOC preparation.

  • The ACGME and its many members like the ABMS member boards, the AMA, the American Hospital Association (AHA), and Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) who stand to profit directly from the program and or by the anticompetitive practices it creates.

  • The multibillion dollar physician testing industry (Pearson, Prometric, etc.)

  • The major players in the US medical insurance industry (Blue Cross Blue Shield, Unitedhealthcare, Aetna, Cigna, etc.) who want to reduce their costs for expensive experienced physicians in lieu of physicians extenders, using the "National Committee on Quality Assurance" as their scapegoat?

  • Or perhaps, it's all of the above?

2) Why did the ABIM feel it could funnel $55 million of diplomate testing fees from 1989 to 1999 to fund its secretly-created (and undisclosed until 1999) ABIM Foundation?

3) Why has the IRS not investigated the repeated ABIM Foundation Form 990 tax fraud regarding the date and state of its Foundation's origin and the non-disclosed lobbying activities?

4) Why has the ABIM Foundation moved over $6.5 million of diplomate test fees offshore to the Cayman Islands in 2014?

5) Why were lawyers from ABIM's legal team, Ballard Spahr, and Ariel Benjamin Mannes (their two-time convicted felonious "Director of Investigations") allowed to accompany Federal Marshals during a home raid of two physicians homes that had developed an ACGME-accredited board review course? What agreement (monetary or otherwise) exists between the Dr. Rajender Arora (the director of the course) and the ABIM?

6) Why has the antitrust case filed by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons against the ABIM, originally filed in New Jersey and then moved to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (Docket No. 1:14-CV-2705) on 4/23/2013, languished unaddressed in the Northern Illinois court docket since 7 Jan 2015?


These are just a few of the things practicing US physicians "Know What We Don't Know."

Rest assured, we won't rest until we find out and bring the corrupt MOC program to an end.

-Wes