Kusserow on Compliance: Tips for getting the most from your CIA

This was the title of a section in a presentation by Laura Ellis, HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) Senior Counsel, at the recent Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) Compliance Institute, where she explained that the settlement process is very lengthy, and that compliance officers should spend that time period preparing for what is to come. Even before matters are referred to the OIG for settlement negotiations, the matter will have been with the Department of Justice (DOJ) for a long time.  It is only after the DOJ turns matters over to the OIG that the agency determines whether or not a corporate integrity agreement (CIA) is necessary, and if so, what terms and condition should be included in the agreement.  Ellis stated that negotiations with the OIG may take up to a year before a CIA emerges.   It is during this rather long lead-up period that the compliance officer should be very busy preparing for what is to come.  Ellis offered a number of suggestions for the compliance officer to follow while this process is underway, including:

Thomas Herrmann, J.D., was previously responsible for negotiating CIAs on behalf of the OIG and in providing monitors with a number of years’ consulting experience, working with more than a dozen clients with CIAs and as an Independent Review Organization (IRO). He agreed with the Ellis statement about the long lead time before a CIA is signed, and that the compliance officer should not waste that valuable time.  Once executed, the clock begins ticking and a lot has to be accomplished in a relatively short time.   Among the most important tasks needing immediate attention is finding and vetting potential outside experts to be the IRO and, in some cases, compliance experts for the Board and quality monitors. The responsibility for selecting these experts lies with the organization, not the OIG.  This may take a lot of time and warrants serious consideration as in all likelihood, the organization will have them for five years.  A mistake in selection will come back to haunt the organization and may aggravate matters with the OIG.  The compliance officer should be very much involved in finding and selecting the right experts with the right expertise.   The more experience the firm selected has in performing this type of work, the less likely there will be problems.  An experienced firm won’t have the learning curve of an inexpert firm that oftentimes adds cost to the engagement and results in poor reports to the OIG.  For an organization that is already in hot water with the DOJ and OIG, this kind of complicating matter is not wanted.

Carrie Kusserow has over 15 years’ compliance officer and consultant experience, and was brought in to be the compliance officer to an organization under a CIA while Laura Ellis was the monitor. Kusserow echoes Ellis’ advice to organizations to take steps to “get the most out of the money” expended on these resources. The more expert they are in the health care sector, the better.  The more experience the individuals assigned to do the work have, particularly experience with the OIG, the better.   The one thing to avoid is hiring an IRO and then paying it to learn about the type of work being done by the organization or how to interact with the OIG. Having top-notch experts can impart considerable added value from prior experience of doing this kind of work. She also pointed out that once these outside experts are engaged, there is another lag period before they begin their work and again when they present reports on the results of their work.  It is a huge mistake to allow these gap periods to elapse without doing serious preparation work.  It is important to begin planning at the earliest date for what is needed to meet CIA terms and conditions, which will assist in this effort, and development of a project plan for execution.   The planning process and timelines for meeting CIA requirements will have to take into account when reports by the IRO, and possibly the compliance expert, are due to the OIG.

Steve Forman, CPA, has over 35 years’ experience, having served as both as a compliance officer and as an IRO many times, and as a compliance expert four times under a CIA. He advises compliance officers that one step that cannot be undertaken too soon is getting the Executive/Management Compliance Committee and Board Compliance Committee involved. They need to understand fully in practical and operational terms their personal obligations, along with what is needed from them to meet CIA obligations.   He also strongly recommends at the first indication that a CIA may be in the future to begin reviewing posted agreements on the OIG website, especially those that involve similar types of organizations.   One point of caution is that the OIG has been changing CIAs significantly as to new requirements, conditions, and certifications by board members and executives. Information derived from these reviews should be translated into a plan of action to ensure the organization is in tune with what the OIG will expect.  He strongly suggests that compliance officers consider engage compliance experts to do two things:

  1. Have the compliance program conduct an independent evaluation and act on findings and recommendations. Having such a report with evidence of correcting any deficiencies can be invaluable evidence to the OIG in making a determination as to whether a CIA is necessary and, if so, mitigating terms and conditions. It will be looking for this evidence.
  2. Once a CIA is executed, immediately engage experts to conduct a mock audit to test the terms and conditions that must be met under the CIA and to have them addressed before the IRO or compliance expert under the CIA begins work.

Taking these two steps can avoid a lot of problems, expenditures and complications under a CIA. The OIG takes evidence of independent experts serious. That is why they rely upon them as IROs, Compliance Experts, and Quality Monitors.

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 © 2017 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.