Kaiser to Pay $5 Million for Kidney Program Problems
Kaiser Permanente will pay a $2 million fine and donate $3 million to encourage organ donation under an agreement with the Department of Managed Health Care related to problems with the HMO's Northern California kidney transplant program, the Los Angeles Times reports (Weber/Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 8/11). The fine is the largest ever imposed by the agency (Vesely, Oakland Tribune, 8/11).
Kaiser announced in May that it will close its kidney transplant center. Several news reports alleged program mismanagement that compromised patient care (California Healthline, 8/10).
The donation will be made to Donate Life California, a program that promotes organ and tissue donation in the state (Rauber, East Bay Business Times, 8/10).
Mary Ann Thode, president of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan's Northern California region, said Kaiser will not increase members' premiums to pay the fine (Feder Ostrov, San Jose Mercury News, 8/11). Thode said, "We have a budget of administrative overhead, and those dollars will come out of that" (Griffith, Sacramento Bee, 8/11).
Although the transplant center's medical director, Sharon Inokuchi, has been relieved of administrative duties, no Kaiser officials have lost their jobs because of the problems. Inokuchi continues to see patients. The HMO appointed a new administrative director for the program in June (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/11).
DMHC officials said they have launched a broader investigation of the HMO to determine whether Kaiser routinely ignores or mishandles patient complaints.
DMHC Director Cindy Ehnes said Kaiser officials "had not somehow heard the concerns of patients, of treating physicians and of others that there were things awry" in the program. Ehnes said the investigation seeks to determine whether there is "anything else that they may have been missing because of the way that they are monitoring their grievances."
The investigation will examine how Kaiser addresses complaints by staff and patients, as well as its procedure for evaluating doctors, Ehnes said (Los Angeles Times, 8/11).
The HMO could face additional fines and penalties as a result of the investigation (Lawrence, AP/Ventura County Star, 8/11).
Thode said Kaiser is "evaluating" its complaint process and is looking into other ways to eliminate "some of the bureaucracy" and holding hospital administrators and physicians-in-chief accountable for the changes (East Bay Business Times, 8/10).
Also on Thursday, DMHC released a report on its investigation of the kidney program. The report found that Kaiser opened the program with no idea how many patients were awaiting transplants and the program was understaffed (Los Angeles Times, 8/11).