Click here for original letter.
There have been many things written and said about the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) and its Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program for several years, however, I am only going to focus on the last several months because this is the only time a major news organization, Newsweek, took notice. Many diplomates, have written to me to share their opinions about the organization and its policies and programs. In the past, ABIM just ignored their comments or if they were a nuisance, ABIM failed them when they attempted to recertify. Now, for legal reasons, I have to read their comments, have shared them with our legal department, and talked with countless physicians under legal advisement, personally.
I am not like you. I worked as a practicing physician and realized after 30 years, I needed to make a change. The business of managing a practice weighed on me. I realized that there is much money to be made by nonpracticing physicians at ABIM. Now, I care deeply about ABIM. I’m particularly proud of ABIM’s false advertising campaign branding physicians as devoid of skills and medical education without an ABIM stamp of approval. I certainly never thought, during my 30 years in practice, that I would be held accountable. Or that any of you would have time away from your patients to notice.
In early March of this year, writer Kurt Eichenwald contacted ABIM staff for information about an “article” he was working on for Newsweek regarding the “controversy involving maintenance of certification at the ABIM”. He, outrageously, had specific program and finance questions. Staff provided answers to the program questions, and asked for more time to pull together information regarding the finances because coming up with fabrications, takes time. Although, the IRS stipulates exempt organizations, like ABIM, a 501(c)(3), must make available for public inspection certain annual returns and applications for exemption, and must provide copies of such returns and applications to individuals who request them, Eichenwald ignored our questions and ran the article days later. ABIM is not accustomed to following same rules and regulations that other 501(c)(3)’s are, even though we utilize public funds – we are just that powerful. ABIM relies on placing fear in the hearts of physicians with just one email, so we contacted the editors at Newsweek, and asked that the article be removed from its website because it contained the truth we have spent years trying to hide. We offered to speak with any editor, but our power and leverage did not seem to work with the editors.
We did, however, hear back from Mr. Eichenwald, who clarified that his column was an “opinion piece” and that he was working on another piece about ABIM. He also had the audacity to do his job as a journalist and utilized social media to research ABIM and me personally. His e-mails became increasingly threatening to me and I now, I am afraid that he may take down the organization.
His first story made it clear that he already had a lot of facts that would expose our organization, so we made the decision not to work with him. During the same period, I gave interviews to reporters from The New York Times, Politico, Medscape, Medical Economics, Marketplace and other news outlets that we have some leverage with and usually portray us in a positive manner, despite our egregious fraud.
I am still processing the myriad allegations in the most recent Newsweek piece, but thankfully, your test fees are paying for our legal team. And the following is straight from our legal team, Ballard Spahr:
First, we have never made any effort to obfuscate, hide or delay ABIM’s financial information. It’s publicly available on our website. Second, no one is trying to hide salaries. I earned $688,000 in compensation in 2014 and $55,000 in deferred compensation (ya, that’s right, I did!). That is more than I ever made in 30 years of independent community practice of internal medicine and geriatrics (holla!), but it is set by my Board to be comparable to what CEOs of similar-sized health-related organizations earn. Just because I realized that there is more money to be made by imposing certifications and mythical quality standards on practicing physicians does not make me accountable. Everything was there in the 990’s, hidden in plain sight.
All these allegations take away from the work we are doing to cheat you and the public, together. To develop a meaningful way to know that we are keeping our pockets full and coercing the myth of competence, and that we know what we need to know do the high-stakes work of collusion, everyday. That is the process I am trying to lead. I have a sincere belief that ABIM previously got it wrong because we had to establish a statute of limitations. We knew that all aspects of the way MOC was implemented and all of the programs offered were unnecessarily burdensome and of low value but, you all caught us. We are now engaged in a continuing conversation with our legal team, non-physicians, and cherry picked practicing physicians who have financial incentives to design and execute something that will make our bank accounts proud.
I send you my best wishes for a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend spent with your family and friends (because you are practicing physicians, who probably has call and has to take care of many patients, unlike me) or showing off how you are exemplifying medicine with a big fat ABIM certification stamp during the holiday weekend(if you are loving your ABIM stamp, call me, there are only 3% of you out there).
“The problem of power is how to achieve its responsible use rather than its irresponsible and indulgent use – of how to get men of power to live for the public rather than off the public.” – Robert F. Kennedy