Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) stepped up his review of conference spending by the CMS and Medicare's Quality Improvement Organizations, saying an annual Tri-Regional conference for CMS and QIO staff appeared to be more of a party than a "working meeting." The Finance Committee began investigating QIOs last summer following a Washington Post report, and in a letter Wednesday to CMS Administrator Mark McClellan, Grassley said documents provided to the committee so far "raise a number of critical concerns regarding, among other things, management of government funds and the alleged lack of responsiveness to beneficiary complaints." He advised McClellan that he had asked both the Office of the Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office to review the operations and activities of QIOs in depth. In addition, Grassley requested from the CMS a detailed accounting of the past four Tri-Regional conferences and information on other travel meetings attended by CMS and QIO staff.
In response to Modern Healthcare questions, the CMS said any conference spending was in accordance with federal travel guidelines. The American Health Quality Association, which represents the 53 Medicare QIOs, said Grassley's letter "wrongly and inappropriately characterizes QIO meetings based on photos of an after-hours networking (that) was not paid for with Medicare funds." Medicare spends about $300 million annually on QIOs, which work with providers to improve quality. -- by Matthew DoBias