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By Fred Schulte, Center for Public Integrity medicarecard

The third of February 2011 was mostly a ho-hum day on Wall Street­ — but not for companies offering Medicare Advantage plans. Several of those firms hit the jackpot, tacking on billions of dollars in new value after federal officials signaled they might go easy on health plans suspected of overcharging the government.

The stocks took off after the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services advised the health plans in a memo that it was rethinking a move to ratchet up audits of the privately run Medicare plans. Some of these plans are run by publicly traded insurance companies whose fortunes can rise and fall significantly upon news of a change in Medicare policy.

By Marshall Allen, ProPublica 

Dr. Cristine Cassel, President and CEO of the National Quality Forum, speaking before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions. Dr. Cassel was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional outside compensation after she was hired in December 2012. (help.senate.gov)

Dr. Cristine Cassel, President and CEO of the National Quality Forum, speaking before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions. Dr. Cassel was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional outside compensation after she was hired in December 2012. (help.senate.gov)

The top executive at the country’s pre-eminent health care quality organization is being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by two large medical companies that have a stake in the group’s work.

The payments to Dr. Christine Cassel raise new conflict-of-interest concerns at the National Quality Forum, which endorses benchmarks that Medicare uses to compensate hospitals based on performance.

By Joe Eaton, Center for Public Integrity moneyhole

A recent federal assessment of Medicare’s fiscal health contained a shred of good news — the public health insurance program for the elderly is burning through cash at a slightly slower rate than expected. Yet declining health care costs haven’t bought much time. According to that May report by the Boards of Trustees for Medicare, the program is slated to run out of money in 2026, only two years later than previously forecast.

In order to cut costs and put Medicare on a stronger footing, many health policy experts say the program must stop covering procedures that do little to improve patient health or are not worth the price tag. But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that administers the program, has for the most part failed to implement such cost-cutting measures, because its authority is limited, cuts are controversial and Congress frequently interferes.