HHS inspector general Daniel Levinson in a report released on Wednesday questioned the legitimacy of a one-year research program conducted by CMS in which the federal government and Medicare beneficiaries paid oncologists a total of about $275 million to report information on chemotherapy side effects that might lead to improved care for cancer patients, the AP/South Florida Sun Sentinel reports.
Under the program, the federal government paid $130 each time oncologists reported the information on the pain, fatigue and nausea experienced by Medicare beneficiaries who underwent chemotherapy.
In addition, Medicare beneficiaries had to pay $26 each time oncologists billed the program for the reports.
About 90% of eligible oncologists participated in the program, and participants received a median of $23,000 each.
However, some program participants received more than $270,000, and one received $625,803.
According to the report from Levinson, the information on chemotherapy side effects collected through the program was "unreliable" because of "numerous anomalies and gaps in the data and collection methods," and most oncologists "did not believe it would lead to quality improvements for patients or produce any useful research findings."
Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said that the program "bilked" taxpayers and Medicare beneficiaries.
He added, "It looks like the Medicare program has played games and used demonstration projects, whose legitimate purpose is to test new and innovative ideas for delivering health care, for questionable purposes."
However, Peter Bach, a senior adviser at CMS, defended the program. "I think we've shown this had a direction," he said, adding, "We're trying to go from a system that is completely blind to what goes on in the doctor's office to one that is highly informed and very helpful to the practicing doctor and to the beneficiary through transparency and quality measures" (Freking, AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 8/29).