UC IRVINE: Admits It Improperly Billed Cancer Patients for Experimental Therapy
The University of California-Irvine announced Friday that it wrongly billed "dying cancer patients and the U.S. government for more than $55,000 in experimental drug treatments linked with a troubled research project that was forced to shut down." The problem was uncovered by a university audit launched after federal officials began investigating research at UCI's Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, which was closed in 1996 after the university discovered that researches conducted unauthorized experiments ( AP/Contra Costa Times, 7/11). Normally, patients may not be charged for experimental treatments without a federal waiver. The Orange County Register reports that UCI Medical Center did not request a waiver, but charged patients $2,500 to $9,600 for their treatment just the same (Kowalczyk, 7/11). A UCI inquiry also found that "researchers solicited $19,900 in donations from patients trying to get into clinical trials." Both the donations and the inappropriate billings were collected from 18 of 30 patients enrolled in UCI trials at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. The university has thus far refunded $24,700 to nine patients or their families, and returned $8,913 to Medicare. The remaining patients, who are owed a total of $21,709, could not be tracked down (Willon, Los Angeles Times, 7/10). UCI Medical Director Mark Laret said, "We're very focused on not having this happen again. We're going to use this as an example of what can happen when you don't adhere strictly to all the rules." He announced several new policies to prevent such errors in the future, including auditing randomly selected trials, requiring proof of FDA permission before billing patients, hiring a nurse to review manually all bills in clinical trials and switching UCI doctors to a centralized billing system (Register, 7/11). Laret said, "In retrospect, a big part of the problem was the autonomous way the labs operated. What we have done is to put systems in place to keep occurrences like this from happening" (Los Angeles Times, 7/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.