Recently, the Journal of the American Medical Association came out with an article partly exposing the money making machine that is the American Board of Medical Specialties. Why partly? Because they hide the money. I am using this blog to highlight the one guy who has fought these extortionists for years. Here is Wes Fisher’s Blog entry:
ABMS Reacts to JAMA MOC Financial Study
It didn’t take long for the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) to issue a statement via MedPageToday on the ABMS member boards’ fees and finances for physician certification and re-certification, claiming their fees are “reasonable.” In my view, they would have been smarter to say nothing, especially since their entire non-profit status may come under scrutiny when all the facts and conflicts of interests inherent to the US physician Board certification system are carefully considered by the Internal Revenue Service.
Let’s fact-check their public statement line by line:
“The research letter entitled ‘Fees for Certification and Finances of Medical Specialty Boards‘ published in the Aug. 1, 2017 issue of JAMA offers an aggregate view of the fees charged by the 24 ABMS Member Boards for more than 860,000 physicians to obtain initial Board Certification and as well as continuing certification throughout a physician’s career.
Note the ABMS rebuttal statement was careful not to use the term Maintenance of Certification® (MOC®), but rather used the term “continuing certification.” That’s because it would hint at the existence of their for-profit wholly-owned subsidiary, ABMS Solutions, LLC, domiciled in Atlanta, GA, that makes money selling physician MOC® certification status to third parties, generating revenues in excess of those disclosed in their rebuttal statement or in the original JAMA research letter.
“According to the letter, the 2013 Member Boards’ revenue represents approximately $313 per ABMS Board Certified physician. This is a reasonable amount to support a nationally recognized credentialing program that is both respected and valued by physicians, healthcare providers, and institutions, and most importantly, patients and their families.
In fact, 81% of physicians feel MOC® is a burden and only 15% felt recertification was worth the effort. Independent studies have failed to identify a difference in time-limited versus lifetime-certified physicians, reinforcing the fact that MOC® is little more than a revenue generator for the ABMS. Also, the ABMS is careful not to mention the word “annually” in their statement when they describe the revenue generated per ABMS Board Certified physician. It is also strange that the ABMS would call their fees “reasonable” when those fees only apply to new, younger, often debt-burdened physicians and not to older physicians certified before 1990. Older physicians are not required to participate in MOC® to keep hospital privileges or insurance panel payments. Age discrimination – a hallmark of the ABMS MOC® program – is not “reasonable” to any ethical working physician or member of the public.
“In addition, the estimated annual cost for continuing certification of $257 per ABMS Board Certified physician is an acceptable cost for physicians to demonstrate that they have the current knowledge, judgment, and skills to provide the highest level and most up-to-date care to their patients.
Funny how this number that pays salaries that are over four times the average physician’s salary are deemed “reasonable” for member boards of the ABMS. $257 stands in stark contrast to the competing certifying board, the National Board of Physicians and Surgeons (nbpas.org) whose fees are only $84.50 per year and is equally credible – if not more so – since their Boards’ leadership are unpaid.
“IRS Form 990 provides information regarding revenues, expenditures, and assets. However, they do not outline the actual operation cost involved in creating, sustaining, and implementing a rigorous and comprehensive process of Board Certification and continuing certification for the nation’s physicians. ABMS Member Boards rely on a highly trained and specialized work force including psychometricians, assessment professionals, and medical educators to develop, evaluate, and administer Board Certification programs.
Those fees also paid for a felonious strongman to overstep their authority to intimidate vulnerable physicians by secretly audiotaping a competing ACGME-accredited board review course. Using those audiotapes the ABIM obtained permission to raid the course director’s home to seize his computers so the ABIM staff could track physician attendees’ email addresses and accusing them of violating ABIM’s “pledge of honesty.” These activities are more akin to a protection racket rather than a physician continuing education/credentialing system.
The ABMS member boards also have numerous large, undisclosed financial conflicts of interest. For instance, in fiscal year 2013, the ABIM paid their non-physician Chief Operating Officer, Ms. Lynn Langdon, over $464,747 while Christine Cassel, MD (President and CEO of the ABIM and its Foundation) earned $838,603 from physicians while she simultaneously served on the Boards of Kaiser Foundation and Hospitals and Premier, Incorporated, the largest hospital purchasing agent that also does “performance improvement consulting” for over 2,900 US hospitals. True to form: the ABMS never mentions these additional conflicts of interest in their statement.
“For this reason, the greatest expenditure is appropriately in the area of staff salary and compensation, as noted in their 990 reports. “The assets reported on the IRS Form 990 that the ABMS Member Boards currently maintain are crucial to sustain and evolve vibrant and innovative Board Certification and continuing certification programs. ABMS Member Boards are continually reinvesting in program improvements and enhancements to transform their certification and continuing certification programming, including the development of quality improvement and longitudinal assessment programs.
Those “vibrant and innovative enhancements” include a $2.3 million condominium complete with a chauffeur-driven town car, investments in the Cayman Islands, for-profit real estate ventures, and even a pond. The largest member board, which secretly channeled over $77 million of physician testing fees to create their ABIM Foundation from 1990 through 2007, now only has $13.6 million remaining in their latest consolidated financials thanks to high salaries and mounting legal fees. I’m not sure I can remember a time of so much innovation (and cover-up) in physician certification!
“These investments will ensure that ABMS Board Certification continues to be a relevant, valued, and important quality indicator for those who hold the credential as well as those who rely upon it for the highest standard of quality care.”
Unfortunately, the ABMS member boards have enjoyed a sheltered workshop for years that the internet has thoroughly disrupted. Sadly, physicians no longer trust the ABMS and their member boards to act in their interest or in the interest of the public. Instead, the data are overwhelming now that the ABMS and their member boards are more concerned about themselves than the public. As such, their tax exempt status should be challenged.
The question now is, are there any investigators/prosecutors at the IRS that will investigate this potential fraud, or are they beholden to the highly political Medical Industrial Complex, too?