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Deficient Organ Centers Notified

Times Staff Writer

Federal regulators began sending out letters Thursday to about 35 underperforming organ transplant centers, giving them one last chance to prove their quality before taking enforcement actions against them -- possibly including pulling federal funding.

The move by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services follows reports in The Times highlighting the agency’s failure to enforce its own standards for heart, liver and lung transplant centers.

The Medicare agency, which funds most of the nation’s transplant centers, requires programs to achieve a specific survival rate to be certified for funding. Medicare also requires transplant programs to perform a minimum number of operations per year to ensure competency. The benchmarks vary by organ, and neither applies to kidney transplants.

Last month, The Times reported that nearly 50 federally funded transplant centers -- about one in five -- did not meet at least one of those standards.

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After questions from The Times earlier this year, the Medicare agency sent letters to every certified transplant center requesting information on performance, staffing and changes that could affect patients.

After reviewing results, Medicare is asking underperforming centers to verify their data and “let us know of any other information we ought to know about,” said Dr. Barry Straube, the agency’s chief medical officer.

“We want to make sure that there’s due process here,” he said. “We’ll be taking action soon.”

Medicare would not identify the centers receiving the letters, but Straube said his agency would release their names if they are hit with sanctions.

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The federal government plans to take other steps to improve its transplant center oversight, officials said. Updated standards, which will heighten supervision of federally funded programs, will be issued before the end of the year, Straube said. They had not been expected until 2007, but the date was moved up in light of concerns.


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