Thursday, February 18, 2021

ABIM and Its Washington Lobbyists

The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that certifies "internists and (medical) subspecialists who demonstrate the knowledge, skills and attitudes essential for excellent patient care." According to the IRS, "In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying). A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status."

In April of 2015, Kurt Eichenwald wrote an opinion piece in Newsweek that exposed the ABIM's tax-reporting discrepencies concerning its lobbying activities:
Start with ABIM's Form 990. This is the document a nonprofit organization has to file with the Internal Revenue Service to disclose its activities and prove it deserves tax-free status. In Part IV, which appears on Page 3 of the document, the government asks a simple question on line 4: "Did the organization engage in lobbying activities?" And year after year, ABIM has answered "no."

Unfortunately, the real world answer is "yes." According to the Center for Responsive Politics, from 2009 through 2014, ABIM paid $390,000 to Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, a lobbying firm. Asked about this, an ABIM representative says it complied with all rules governing IRS filings. Maybe. Yet according to Independent Sector, a prominent organization for nonprofits, the words "lobbying activities" in line 4 includes elements as miniscule as holding strategy meetings to coordinate lobbying with others and time spent preparing arguments to be advanced to government officials. Unless ABIM just wrote a check and never spoke to its lobbyists, it's hard to see how it complied with those standards. (Side note: A random check of seven 501(c)(3)s that paid less than ABIM to lobbying firms showed all of them answered with a "yes" on line 4.)

So what did ABIM spend all this lobbying money on? According to Mehlman Vogel's filings with the government, ABIM's lobbyists provided "strategic advice" on issues related to Obamacare, including "physician quality reporting requirements." And if you haven't guessed yet, what does the ABIM consider "physician quality reporting requirements"? Maintenance of certification (MOC), the program that so many doctors say is worthless—and that ABIM refuses to show has any impact on "physician quality" with independent research or other science-y stuff.

Did the lobbying work? Yup. Under Obamacare, physicians who participated in MOC through 2014 qualified for an incentive payment. The description of MOC is so specific in the law that ABIM and similar groups in ABMS were the only organizations that met the definitions. In other words, in the first few years of Obamacare, the government was paying doctors to pay ABIM and related certification organizations to participate in a program that has never been proven to do squat.
So it should come as no surprise to working physicians that lobbyists have come to the rescue of the ABIM by filing Amicus briefs in support of the ABIM in the lawsuit failed against them by four working internists. One of these lobbying groups is a seasoned veteran of the Washington scene while the other two are relaively new, formed in large part to fight the national physician pushback against Maintenance of Certification (MOC): the American Society Association Executives (1575 I St. NW, Washington, DC), the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (2001 K Street, Washington DC). and the Professional Certification Coalition (formed "to address efforts to enact state legislation that would undermine the activities or recognition of certifications developed or offered by non-governmental, private certification organizations" and actively promoting their work in support of ABIM on their website).

Think there's money in continuous re-certification and lifelong testing of physicians?

You bet.

Will the public ever learn of the extent of lobbying that the ABIM performs to advance their political and economic agendas?

Never.

Unless, of course, the current lawsuit against the ABIM wins its appeal and the case goes to discovery.

-Wes

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Follow the money" is always apt.

No one making the kind of cash that ABIM currently is making is going to surrender that income stream willingly without a fight. Physicians who allegedly went into medicine to "help people" are now the fat cat bureaucrats who somehow think they're "helping people" by sitting behind a desk 8 hours a day and discussing throughput through the ER over coffee and danish. You know what else improves throughput in the ER? More physicians seeing patients.

"Physician leadership" are the administrative larvae who love to take time out of the busy schedule of actual working physicians to bore them to death over a 30-60 minute dry-erase white board presentation. They hope to secure these higher paid positions that allow them to do less actual clinical work than they're doing now.

Modern medicine has become like The Matrix. All the layers of bureaucracy are just another level of control while allowing those at the top to continue with their Napoleonic complex. None of these 'careers' can survive without lobbyists in place to reassure the Washington illuminati that this is how modern medicine is supposed to work.

Samuel Shem had it right with his ice cream cone analogy. All the licking and slurping at the top is quite a sight.

Anonymous said...

So if the ABIM is working with lobbyist, has someone been sending this information to the IRS to get them audited? The government does not like to be cheated out its money.