Comparison of 1997 Medicare relative value units for gender-specific procedures: is Adam still worth more than Eve?

B A Goff, H G Muntz, J M Cain
Gynecologic Oncology 1997, 66 (2): 313-9

BACKGROUND: On January 1, 1992, Congress implemented a Medicare payment system based on relative value units (RVUs). The total RVU (which is made up of work, practice, and malpractice RVUs) is multiplied by a dollar conversion factor to set the reimbursement for all procedures covered by Medicare. In a previous study, we found that significant gender bias exists in Medicare reimbursement for female-specific services. Recently, HCFA approved increases (beginning January 1997) in the work RVU for many gynecologic procedures. This study was undertaken to compare work and total RVUs for gender-specific procedures effective January 1, 1997.

METHODS: Using the May 1996 Federal Register, we compared work and total RVUs for 24 pairs of gender-specific procedures. The groups were matched so that the amount of work and level of difficulty would be similar, if not identical. We validated our selection of procedures for comparison by also evaluating the average time required to perform these procedures.

RESULTS: Comparison of work RVUs for the 24 paired procedures revealed that in 19 cases (80%), male-specific procedures had a higher RVU; in 3 cases (12%), female-specific procedures were higher; and in 2 cases, there was no difference. On average, work RVUs were 49% higher for urologic procedures than for gynecologic procedures. Comparison of total RVUs revealed that in 20 cases (83%), urologic procedures had a higher total RVU and in 3 cases (12%), gynecologic procedures were higher. On average, male-specific surgeries are reimbursed at an amount which is 37% higher than that for female-specific surgeries.

CONCLUSION: Recent increases in work RVUs for many gynecologic procedures have resulted in improved reimbursement. However, even with these improvements, significant gender bias still exists in the Medicare reimbursement of female-specific procedures. This gender bias is further magnified as more private insurance carriers use the system to set reimbursement.

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