updated 4/8/2005 4:57:08 PM ET 2005-04-08T20:57:08

Medicare’s chief medical officer has been charged with falsifying records and put on indefinite administrative leave, officials said Friday.

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Dr. Sean Tunis, chief medical officer for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is accused of altering documents meant to prove that he had completed mandatory continuing education.

The charges were brought last month by the Maryland Board of Physicians, which licenses doctors to practice medicine in the state and has the authority to suspend or revoke those licenses.

Responding to the charges, the government put Tunis on administrative leave on Thursday. He continues to collect his salary and is not using any vacation time, said Gary Karr, spokesman for the CMS.

As one of Medicare’s top policy officials, Tunis was charged with helping the government decide what services to cover under the giant health insurance program for the elderly. Dr. Barry Straube of CMS’ Region IX in San Francisco starts Monday as acting chief medical officer.

Falsified documents
The charging document filed last month by the Maryland Board of Physicians alleges that Tunis repeatedly altered or otherwise falsified papers documenting that he had completed educational courses necessary to maintain his license and his medical privileges at Mercy Medical Center in Maryland, where he works part-time in the emergency department.

It charges him with submitting false statements regarding his continuing medical education on three consecutive reappointment applications and willfully making a false report. It says he also “persistently failed to comply” with subpoenas issued by the board, failing to cooperate with a lawful investigation.

For instance, when applying for reappointment to Mercy in 2001, Tunis claimed to have received 24 credit hours from a 2001 session sponsored by the American College of Physicians, the board said. But research by the board found that Tunis did not register for that session. It also learned that the official name of the sponsoring organization had changed, while the old name appeared on the certificate Tunis submitted. All certificates issued in 2001 bore the new, official name, the board said.

Similar allegations
There are several similar allegations outlined by the state licensing board. In 1998, Tunis claimed 35 credits for attending a meeting in New Orleans. Records showed he did not register for that conference and that it was actually held in San Diego that year, the board said.

The board began its investigation into Tunis after receiving an anonymous written complaint in July 2002. Responding to the board, Tunis wrote that he believed the complaint came from a “disgruntled CMS subordinate” whom he passed over for a promotion.

In that written response, Tunis acknowledged doctoring a 2001 document but said he never submitted it.

Tunis could not be reached for comment Friday. CMS had no comment on the allegations.

A hearing into the matter is scheduled for July and will go forward if no settlement is reached before then.

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