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Fees, Finances at Medical Specialty Boards Questioned

By John Commins  
   August 01, 2017

In FY 2013, American Board of Medical Specialties members reported $263 million in revenue and $239 million in expenses. Between 2003 and 2013, the change in net balance of ABMS member boards grew from $237 million to $635 million.

Physicians are challenging what they say are high fees and the dubious clinical relevance of maintenance of certification programs offered by the American Board of Medical Specialties.

A study published this week in JAMA also found that the nonprofit organizations that administer the certification process, and which have a fiduciary responsibility to match revenues and expenditures, are collecting a lot more money than they’re spending.

Related: Is It Time to Reevaluate Certification Fees for Medical Specialists? 

Study authors Brian C. Drolet, MD, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Vickram J. Tandon, MD, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, investigated fees charged to physicians for certification examinations and finances of the 24 ABMS member boards.

"This is a reasonable amount to support a nationally recognized credentialing program that is both respected and valued by physicians, health care providers and institutions, and most importantly, patients and their families."

In 2017, the average fee for an initial written examination was $1,846. In addition, 14 boards required an oral examination for initial certification at an average cost of $1,694. Nineteen boards offered subspecialty verification (e.g., hand surgery within orthopedic or plastic surgery) with an average cost of $2,060. Average fees for MOC were $257 annually, the researchers said.

In fiscal year 2013, member boards reported $263 million in revenue and $239 million in expenses; a difference of $24 million in surplus. Examination fees accounted for 88% of revenue and 21% of expenditures, whereas officer and employee compensation and benefits accounted for 42% of expenses. Between 2003 and 2013, the change in net balance of the ABMS member boards grew from $237 million to $635 million, the researchers said.


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John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

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