Purpose: On January 1, 1992, Congress implemented a Medicare payment system based on relative value units (RVU). The RVU multiplied by a dollar conversion factor sets the reimbursement for all procedures covered by Medicare and many other private insurers. This study was undertaken to evaluate discrepancies in federal reimbursement for gender-specific procedures.
Methods: Using the December 1995 Federal Register and the regional Medicare conversion factor ($40.08/RVU), we compared the work RVU and total reimbursement of 24 groups of gender-specific surgical procedures. The groups were matched as carefully as possible so that the amount of work and level of difficulty would be similar, if not identical. Some examples of comparisons are as follows: biopsy of male vs female genitals, hysterectomy vs prostatectomy, staging for ovarian vs testicular cancer, and exenteration for cervical vs prostate cancer.
Results: In the 24 matched procedures, the male-specific procedures were reimbursed at a higher amount in 19 (79%) cases. The female-specific procedures were reimbursed at a higher amount in 3 (12%) cases (P = 0.004). There was no difference in reimbursement for two of the comparisons. Overall, we found that male-specific procedures are reimbursed at an amount which is 44% higher than female-specific procedures. Comparison of work RVU revealed that male-specific procedures were assigned higher values in 19 cases and, overall, male gender-related surgeries had work RVU that were 50% higher than female gender-related surgeries.
Conclusion: There is significant gender bias against the Medicare reimbursement of female-specific services. This results in a lower net reimbursement for gynecologic procedures. In addition, since many private sector insurance carriers now use the resource-based relative value scale system, this gender bias is further potentiated.