With concern over conflicts of interest swirling at the National Quality Forum, an investigative news report has widened the questions to include money received by the CEO of the national standards-setting organization.
Christine Cassel, president and CEO of the National Quality Forum, received about $235,000 in compensation and stock last year while serving as a board member of purchasing company Premier, according to a Feb. 12 report from ProPublica. The story also reported that Cassel received $189,000 in 2012 for working as a board member to the Kaiser Foundation Health Plans and Hospitals.
Both Premier and Kaiser are directly affected by the recommendations promulgated by the National Quality Forum. Premier sells products that are potentially impacted by the NQF's patient-safety recommendations, while Kaiser is affected by the pay-for-performance measures that NQF recommends to Medicare.
Although Cassel's official bio on the NQF website lists numerous affiliations, her paid memberships on the boards of Premier and Kaiser are not disclosed, the ProPublica story notes.
The NQF says Cassel's board memberships were disclosed internally and sought a legal opinion before she was hired. The board agreed that Cassel could recuse herself on matters that presented a conflict, which has not happened, an NQF spokeswoman told ProPublica.
The report comes just weeks after Cassel criticized the former co-chair of the NQF's Safe Practices Committee, Dr. Charles Denham, who was accused by the U.S. Justice Department of accepting money from the maker of a surgical antiseptic whose specific chemical formulation was touted by the NQF for preventing central-line bloodstream infections.
Cassel said Denham should have disclosed that his for-profit company, Health Care Concepts, had received $11.6 million in contracts from CareFusion about the same time that he co-chaired the safe practices committee.
The CareFusion payments came while Denham's not-for-profit company, Texas Medical Institute of Technology, was also financially supporting the NQF and helping to draft changes that favored CareFusion products.
Minutes from the Aug. 9, 2009 meeting of the committee show that Denham was asked about potential conflicts and didn't disclose the CareFusion payments. More than four years later, the Justice Department settled a whistle-blower lawsuit against CareFusion for $40 million in a legal agreement that alleged the payments to Denham were kickbacks.
Denham has not been charged or sued, and has denied the allegation. His attorney has said the money went toward legitimate contracts between HCC and CareFusion.
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