CMS's chief medical officer placed on leave

Sunday, April 24, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Medicare's chief medical officer, Dr. Sean Tunis, was placed on leave earlier this month and accused of falsifying documents that showed he had fulfilled medical education requirements.

Tunis was placed on leave with pay from his job as Medicare's chief medical officer and director of the Office of Clinical Standards and Quality, said Gary Karr, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

.All practicing physicians must accrue a certain amount of continuing medical education (CME) credits to retain their licenses. Tunis will on leave until the charges brought by the Maryland Board of Physicians are resolved, said Gary Karr, CMS spokesman. The Board alleges that Tunis modified CME documents and claimed CME credits at conferences that he did not register for

Unless there is a settlement, an administrative law judge will hear the case in July.

According to news reports, Tunis told the Board that he is the focus of a smear campaign by a disgruntled CMS employee, but admitted to modifying 2001 CME documents. Some of the Board's charges pertain to CME credits Tunis claimed before he had joined CMS.

In his positions at CMS, Tunis plays a major role in determining which treatments and medical devices will be covered by the $394 billion health program for the elderly and disabled

Tunis joined CMS about 20 years ago, but until he became medical director earlier this year, the HME industry had little direct interaction with him. As medical director, Tunis literally has the power of life and death over providers, depending on where he guides Medicare policy on coverage issues.

Barry Straube, the chief medical officer for CMS Region IX in San Francisco, will taken Tunis's place on an acting basis.