The American Medical Association still requires RUC attendees to sign confidentiality agreements. Photo: Bob Herman / Axios

An influential committee of doctors who helps determine Medicare's payment rates met in Chicago last week. But Axios was not allowed to enter the formal Friday meeting without signing a confidentiality agreement that said no payment recommendations or direct quotes from attendees could be released.

Why it matters: The group, known as the RUC, has opened up more than it has in the past. But Medicare said this summer it will accept nearly every payment recommendation from the committee going forward — which means tens of billions of taxpayer dollars for physician services still hinge on meetings that can't be discussed publicly.

The details: The confidentiality agreement presented to Axios is what attendees have signed for years, and has been chronicled in stories by the Center for Public Integrity, the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. The point of the agreements is to prevent any market speculation from the new technologies and procedures that are being discussed and to protect "proprietary" medical codes, RUC chair and Duke University heart surgeon Peter Smith said in a statement to Axios.

The American Medical Association, which convenes the RUC, posts minutes and recommendations of the RUC meetings, which it started doing a few years ago. But those documents aren't available until well after the meetings occur. The details from these latest October meetings, which cover 2019 payment policies, won't be available online until next July, according to Smith's statement.

The challenge: The AMA said these committee meetings are open to the public and media. But requiring nearly all of the meeting material and discussion remain confidential is a major obstacle, especially because the information will be almost the sole basis for how Medicare pays physicians for their time and services.

  • "Given that (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) has said they are going to accept everything from the RUC, they really should not be tolerating a secret process," said Paul Ginsburg, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and expert in Medicare payment policies.

Go deeper: The uproar behind the AMA's panel of doctors, and the AMA's views on drug price controls.

Go deeper

Updated 36 mins ago - Health

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it's too early to say whether next month's elections will be postponed after she announced Tuesday four people had tested positive for COVID-19 after no local cases for 102 days.

Zoom in: NZ's most populous city, Auckland, has gone on lockdown for 72 hours and the rest of the country is under lesser restrictions.

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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8 p.m. ET: 20,188,678 — Total deaths: 738,668 — Total recoveries: 12,452,126Map.
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Voters cast ballots in Minnesota, Georgia, Connecticut, Wisconsin and Vermont

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Primary elections are being held on Tuesday in Minnesota, Georgia, Connecticut, Vermont and Wisconsin.

The big picture: Georgia and Wisconsin both struggled to hold primaries during the coronavirus pandemic, but are doing so again — testing their voting systems ahead of the general election. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) is facing a strong challenger as she fights for her political career. In Georgia, a Republican primary runoff pits a QAnon supporter against a hardline conservative.