Healthcare Business News
Dr. Christine Cassel

National Quality Forum CEO Cassel cutting ties to Kaiser, Premier

By Joe Carlson
Posted: February 26, 2014 - 8:15 pm ET

In continuing fallout from a recent conflict-of-interest scandal, National Quality Forum President and CEO Dr. Christine Cassel is stepping down from two outside board of directors jobs amid questions about whether they created conflicts of interest for her.

Cassel, 68, has worked on the board of directors at Kaiser Permanente Health Plan and Hospitals since 2003, and has held board jobs with healthcare supplier and consultant Premier and its predecessors since 2008. She told the National Quality Forum board of directors on Wednesday that she is resigning both roles because they had become a “distraction” for the NQF.

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The changes come as the NQF works to contain a conflict-of-interest scandal on one of its committees. In January, the Justice Department unveiled allegations that a longtime leader on an NQF committee, Dr. Charles Denham, received $11.6 million in payments from a company called CareFusion to his company to influence which kinds of products the NQF recommends hospitals buy.

NQF officials have said that Cassel's board memberships were disclosed to the quality forum and that a legal opinion was sought before she was hired last summer. The opinion recommended that she recuse herself from discussions where she could have conflicts.

NQF board chairwoman Helen Darling praised Cassel's decision to step down from Kaiser and Premier, saying the voluntary move showed her commitment to the quality of care movement and NQF.

“I will miss my service on the boards, but I do not wish this issue to interfere with the important work facing NQF,” said Cassel, who was hired at NQF last July. A statement from the NQF said that the decision was voluntary on Cassel's part and that the NQF board knew about her outside roles before she was hired.

Cassel received $189,000 in compensation from Kaiser in 2013. At Premier, she received $135,000 in compensation in 2013 and another $100,000 in stock that cannot be redeemed for at least three years. At the NQF, she's slated to receive $561,000 plus performance bonuses for her work in 2014.

Denham has denied the allegations against him, and has not been charged or accused directly in a lawsuit. However, the revelations caused the quality forum to strengthen its conflict of interest policies and open a probe into the matter. Cassel criticized Denham for failing to report that CareFusion had paid a for-profit company that Denham controls while he helped guide NQF's safe practice work.

As that situation was unfolding, investigative journalism outlet ProPublica reported that Cassel served as a well-paid board member at Kaiser and Premier.

Both Premier and Kaiser are affected by the recommendations of the National Quality Forum. Premier arranges for the purchases of products that could be affected by the NQF's patient-safety recommendations, while Kaiser is affected by pay-for-performance measures that NQF recommends to Medicare.

Follow Joe Carlson on Twitter: @MHJCarlson

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