CMS places its top doc on paid leave

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

BALTIMORE -- The six-week delay of Medicare's new national coverage criteria for wheelchairs (see story page 1) probably had nothing to do with CMS's decision to place its chief medical officer on leave, say most industry watchers.
CMS placed Dr. Sean Tunis on leave in early April after he was accused of falsifying documents that showed he had fulfilled medical education requirements. Tunis played a key role in developing the new coverage criteria, originally scheduled for release in mid to late March.
After multiple delays, CMS released its new NCD for wheelchairs on May 6.
As medical officer, Tunis literally has the power of life and death over providers, depending on where he guides Medicare policy on coverage issues. Because of that, many consider him one of the most powerful people in the HME industry.
"There has been a lot of talk of Tunis, but I don't think it's (had) much of an impact," said Seth Johnson, Pride Mobility's director of government affairs. "I think it is just a matter of getting ready for release."
Tunis will be on paid leave until the charges brought by the Maryland Board of Physicians are resolved, said Gary Karr, CMS spokesman.
The board alleges that Tunis falsified documents that showed he had fulfilled continuing medical education requirements. Unless there is a settlement, an administrative law judge will hear the case in July.
According to news reports, Tunis told the Maryland Board of Physicians that he is the focus of a smear campaign by a disgruntled CMS employee, but admitted to modifying 2001 CME documents.
Barry Straube, the chief medical officer for CMS Region IX in San Francisco, has taken Tunis's place on an acting basis.