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AMA to the Virginian-Pilot: Story on medical costs ignored details

Aug. 2, 2013 (published)

The Virginian-Pilot
Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

RE: The clock keeps ticking, long after the work's done' (front page, July 22): The Pilot did a remarkable disservice to readers by publishing this flawed Washington Post story about an American Medical Association committee's role in making cost recommendations.

In recent years, the committee has identified overvalued medical services to help drive cost reductions. The panel has reviewed about 1,300 potentially misvalued services and recommended reductions to 500 of them, redistributing $2.5 billion to primary care and other services. The committee is currently reviewing gastrointestinal services, including colonoscopy procedures. That review will be complete next year.

However, the Medicare physician payment system is ultimately budget-neutral. There is no financial advantage if the government accepts a recommendation for increasing the cost of a medical service, because any increase is automatically offset by decreasing costs assigned to all other services. Also, the annual growth in Medicare physician services has been less than 1 percent for each of the past three years.

The AMA ensures transparency of the process, making the data and rationale for each committee recommendation publicly available. The committee submits recommendations each year, but the government is not obligated to accept them. The general public also is able to comment on individual procedures.

Ardis D. Hoven, MD
President, American Medical Association