Kusserow on Compliance: More on the new OIG guidance on exclusions

The HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) has authority under the Social Security Act to exclude any individual or entity from participation in the federal health care programs for engaging in prohibited conduct. Those programs may not pay for any items or services furnished, ordered, or prescribed by an excluded party. Going back to 1997, the OIG published a policy statement with non-binding criteria to be used by the OIG in assessing whether to impose exclusion under its authorities and has used this in evaluating whether to impose exclusion ever since. This policy has also been used as an OIG authority in the creation of Corporate Integrity Agreements (CIAs), or the use of some other approach to mitigate risks of future misconduct with OIG oversight. The OIG has now published a revised superseding policy.

The OIG position in favor of sanctions is rooted in the idea that some period of exclusion should be imposed against a person who has defrauded Medicare or any other federal health care program. The new OIG guidance document sets forth circumstances in which this presumption may be rebutted and the non-binding factors that the OIG will use to make such a determination, as well as describing how they will evaluate risk to the federal health care programs in using its other available remedies. The OIG outlined a “risk spectrum” range of options when settling a civil or administrative health care fraud case that includes the following remedies: (1) exclusion; (2) heightened scrutiny (e.g., implement unilateral monitoring); (3) integrity obligations; (4) take no further action; or (5) in the case of a good faith and cooperative self-disclosure, release exclusion with no integrity obligations.

The OIG often concludes that exclusion is not necessary if there is agreement to appropriate integrity obligations, in exchange for a release of exclusion, such as with a CIA. The CIAs are designed to strengthen and promote an entities’ compliance program so that future issues can be prevented or identified, reported, and corrected. Integrity obligations also enhance the OIG’s oversight of the entity. Failure to agree to terms of a CIA may result in pursuing exclusion or the exercise of other administrative actions, as deemed appropriate to “unilaterally monitor” compliance with federal health care programs. If the OIG determines a party presents a relatively low risk to federal health care programs, neither exclusion nor integrity obligations will be deemed necessary. These situations include the absence of egregious conduct, such as patient harm or intentional fraud, relatively low financial harm, and where a successor owner, after the misconduct, is resolving the matter.

There are two limited circumstances in which OIG will usually give a person a release of exclusion without requiring integrity obligations: (1) when the person self- discloses the fraudulent conduct, cooperatively and in good faith, to the OIG; or (2) when the person agrees to robust integrity obligations with a state or the Department of Justice (DOJ) and OIG determines these obligations are sufficient to protect the federal health care programs.

It is worthwhile to review the revised exclusion policy statement and evaluate how your compliance programs, self-disclosure protocols, and other practices measure against the standards described by the OIG.

Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

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Copyright © 2016 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.