Medicare Official Fined $20,000

Sean R. Tunis agreed to a one-year medical suspension and $20,000 fine for falsifying documents.
Sean R. Tunis agreed to a one-year medical suspension and $20,000 fine for falsifying documents. (Courtesy Religion & Ethics - Newsweekly/pbs)
By Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 4, 2005

Sean R. Tunis, a Maryland physician and high-ranking Medicare official, has agreed to a one-year suspension from practicing medicine and a $20,000 fine for falsifying documents showing he had met his requirements for continuing medical education.

The consent order, dated May 25, also requires him to complete an ethics course and 35 hours of continuing medical education.

Federal health officials would not comment yesterday on whether he will remain as Medicare's chief medical officer and director of the Office of Clinical Standards and Quality. Tunis was placed on paid administrative leave in April, pending the outcome of the Maryland case and an investigation by the inspector general's office at the Department of Health and Human Services.

In that role, Tunis wielded great influence over what therapies and medical devices are covered by Medicare, the federal health program that covers 42 million elderly and disabled people. He reported directly to Mark B. McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Barry Straube has been serving as the agency's acting chief medical officer.

Tunis, who was hired by the agency in 2000, attributed his actions to "careless record-keeping" and hinted that he hopes to hold on to the CMS job, which pays between $107,00 and $162,000.

"I decided to sign this order because I acknowledge that I made a mistake and I wish to accept responsibility for it," he said in a brief statement. "Now that this order is signed, I look forward to continuing my public service and my career in public health policy."

In February, the state Board of Physicians charged Tunis with unprofessional conduct and making false statements about his credentials. The 15-page "charging document" said that Tunis falsely claimed to have completed 50 credit hours of continuing medical education and that in several instances he submitted altered documents to investigators.

Under state law, Maryland doctors must complete the continuing education to renew their licenses every two years. Many meet the requirement by attending conferences, reviewing academic journals, taking online courses or participating in hospital sessions known as "grand rounds."

"In nearly 20 years of medical practice, I have never been the subject of any complaint related to patient care and I have been diligent in maintaining my knowledge of clinical medicine," said Tunis, a graduate of the Stanford University School of Medicine. A spokesman for Tunis said he has resigned his part-time job at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company