CMS Ditches Obesity Surgery Quality Standards

Seven years after imposing obesity surgery quality standards for Medicare, CMS (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) has decided to drop them entirely. Folks with their own (competing) standards had lobbied CMS to decide that the current standards weren’t working well enough and that they reduced access to care for some patients.

To the point about access, the only thing to say is: DUH! By definition, any real quality standards will at the very least limit access to substandard care. That’s the idea — to protect people from marginal providers.

This is not to trivialize the problem of access to care in rural areas. But the means exist to strike a balance between quality standards and access to care. The American College of Surgeons (ACS) and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) have been working very hard on this very issue. They’ve merged their certification programs and updated the standards. The new standards are designed to safeguard quality, while expanding access to care.

ASMBS President Jaime Ponce expressed disappointment with the decision:

We are disappointed and in strong disagreement with a ruling that appears to disregard overwhelming scientific evidence and medical opinion that bariatric accreditation programs save lives, improve patient outcomes, and enhance the quality of care.

Walking away from any quality standards gives the appearance of indifference. Medicare patients who need obesity surgery are a vulnerable population that deserves access to quality care.

Let’s hope others step in to provide better guidance.

Click here to read the CMS decision and here to read the response from ACS and ASMBS.

Sv Duh (Holy Spirit, Croatia), photograph © esweb2011 / flickr

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