Grassley Questions QIO Resort Conferences for Medicare Officials
CMS officials responsible for awarding $300 million in contracts to Medicare Quality Improvement Organizations regularly attended conferences sponsored by the groups at "luxurious" beach and mountain resorts, according to a review conducted by the Senate Finance Committee as part of an ongoing investigation into the practices and oversight of QIOs, the Washington Post reports.
In a letter sent on Wednesday to CMS Administrator Mark McClellan, committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) requested detailed reports on travel and expenditures for agency employees who attended conferences since 2003, including two physicians -- Steven Jencks and William Rollow -- who oversee QIO contracts. According to the letter, photographs of one conference site at a beach resort in St. Petersburg, Fla., "suggest a cruise ship atmosphere" and "depict a luxurious resort, lavish dinners, dessert buffets and Hawaiian dance parties -- all in a tropical beach locale."
The committee launched the investigation in August 2005 after a Post series reported that QIOs -- private, state-based contractors paid by Medicare to investigate patient complaints and oversee quality of care issues -- often fail to investigate complaints and that some executives receive high salaries and perks.
The conferences cited in Grassley's letter were sponsored by the American Health Quality Association, which represents QIOs.
AHQA CEO David Schulke said the Florida conference included substantive meetings during business hours. "It is inappropriate to draw conclusions and insinuate impropriety based purely on the meeting location or pictures of a networking reception held after meeting hours," Schulke said.
Barry Straube, acting chief medical officer at CMS, said the agency is "taking the concerns raised very seriously" and will respond to Grassley's request (Gaul, Washington Post, 1/6).
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