Kusserow on Compliance: Temporary staffing and interim compliance officers

When individuals from a compliance office, including compliance officers, retire, move to new organizations, or are replaced for any reason, it can leave a gap in the day to day management of the compliance efforts that can create a serious risk. This underscores the importance of not only finding a suitable replacement quickly, however, that process can be time consuming. As such, it is not surprising that many organizations turn to engaging temporary expert assistance, including acting the use of Interim Compliance Officers (ICOs). This decision is often made with the realization that having a gap in the program over a period of months, or designating someone internally to do the work can be dangerous. Smaller organizations are not likely to have anyone sufficiently qualified to carry out all the duties. It is also risky to have someone making decisions, or failing to make decisions, that may create liabilities. The worst decision is selecting someone to take on the role of compliance officer as a temporary set of secondary duties to his or her current job. This will always lead the individual to continue giving priority to their regular job and do as little as possible in compliance.

Temporary staffing has the advantage of quickly filling immediate needs, including addressing any pending issues or problems. Properly experienced professionals can hit the ground quickly and be effective, not just be a placeholder. This approach will permit the organization to continue its search for the permanent replacement.  Using a properly qualified outside expert presents a lot of advantages. The expert can bring the experience of having served in other organizations and dealing with many of the same issues already addressed by prior jobs.  Important also is that they have not been invested in any prior decisions, nor have they been aligned with any parties in the organization. Most importantly, the expert brings “fresh eyes” to the program. An outside expert can provide an objective assessment on the state of the compliance program, offer suggestions, and give guidance for improvements.

Finding the right ICO with a lot experience and technical skills can make significant improvements for any compliance program in a relatively short order.  In fact, it may be the most economical means to have an independent evaluation of a compliance program. However, care needs to be taken when deciding on an expert. It is important that someone is not hired who is a “cast off” from another organization. As such, it is important that references be checked carefully to be assured of someone who is competent and reliable. It is important to design the engagement to bring maximum return of benefit for the cost. Therefore, in the case of an ICO, consideration should be given to the added scope of work. Organizations should expect to have the outside expert:

  • provide an independent assessment of the status of the compliance program;
  • make an assessment of high-risk areas that warrant attention;
  • be able to efficiently and effectively address compliance risk issues that may arise;
  • offer suggestions to build a firmer foundation for the compliance program;
  • review the existing Code, compliance policies, and other guidance;
  • evaluate the quality and effectiveness of compliance training;
  • develop a “road map” for the incoming compliance officer to follow;
  • assist in identifying and evaluating candidates for the permanent position;
  • assess resources needed to effectively operate the compliance program;
  • identify or build metrics that evidence compliance program effectiveness; and
  • develop comprehensive briefings for management and board on the state of the program.

Finally, for even fairly large organizations, a true compliance expert can hold things together for several months without having to be full time on site. Most organizations can keep their compliance program operating with many of the added benefits noted above, using an expert for 50 to 80 hours per month. After all, the ICO is holding the compliance program together, not building it.

 

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 © 2018 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

Kusserow on Compliance: CMS improperly paid $367M for outpatient physical therapy

The OIG issued an audit report that found sixty-one percent of Medicare claims for outpatient physical therapy services reviewed did not comply with Medicare medical necessity, coding, or documentation requirements, resulting in an estimated overpayment of $367 million for outpatient physical therapy services that did not comply with Medicare requirements. These overpayments occurred because CMS controls were not effective in preventing improper payments for outpatient physical therapy services. The Medicare Part B program paid approximately $2 billion for outpatient physical therapy services provided to beneficiaries and past OIG reviews of individual physical therapy providers identified claims for outpatient physical therapy services that were not reasonable, medically necessary, or properly documented.  The OIG analyzed a stratified random sample of 300 outpatient claims for physical therapy services. The OIG’s stated objective was to determine whether Medicare claims for outpatient physical therapy services complied with Medicare requirements. Errors identified fell under three categories:

  1. Services that were not medically necessary, including services which were not reasonable—there was no evidence that the services would be effective, the services did not require the skills of a therapist, or there was not expectation of significant improvement.
  2. Coding did not meet medical requirements—timed units claimed did not match units in treatment notes; missing modifiers; and incorrect codes.
  3. Documentation did not meet Medicare requirement—plan-of-care deficiencies; treatment note deficiencies; and recertification deficiencies.

The OIG recommended CMS: (1) instruct the Medicare contractors to notify providers of potential overpayments so that those providers can exercise reasonable diligence to investigate and return any identified overpayments, (2) establish mechanisms to better monitor the appropriateness of outpatient physical therapy claims, and (3) educate providers about Medicare requirements for submitting outpatient physical therapy claims for reimbursement. CMS generally disagreed with these findings and believes further analysis of the sampled claims is warranted to determine whether the claims met Medicare requirements, according to the report.

 

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.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on Google+ or LinkedIn.

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Copyright © 2018 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

Kusserow on Compliance: Stark Law continues to be questioned

CMS kicked off the New Year by announcing plans to convene an inter-agency group to focus on how to minimize the regulatory barriers of the Stark Law that began in 1989 and underwent expansion in the 1990s. Providers have raise concerns from the beginning of the implementation of the Stark Law. The agencies involved in the review will include: CMS, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), HHS General Counsel, and the Department of Justice (DOJ). Since the announcement, there has been considerable speculation as to how serious this effort will be and how soon something will materialize from it. The subject came up during a hearing on March 21 concerning the implementation of physician payment policies under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). CMS called for the need to consider such reforms as the agency pushes toward a value-based healthcare system. The Stark Law has been viewed by much of the industry as creating real barriers to meeting new government policy objectives.

CMS testimony noted that the Stark Law “has a really big impact on how relationships are structured in the healthcare space, which prohibits physicians from referring a Medicare or Medicaid patient to a provider with which the physicians have financial ties.” The testimony went on to state that the health care system has so many fractured silos with many rules and regulations that govern every part of the health care system and that both MACRA and Stark are important pieces of it. It was noted that the President’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 includes a line item calling for the “physician self-referral law” to be reformed “to better support and align with alternative payment models [APM] and to address overutilization.”

The Stark Law prohibits doctors from referring Medicare patients to hospitals, labs and colleagues with whom they have financial relationships, unless they fall under certain exceptions. It also prevents hospitals from paying providers more when they meet certain quality measures, such as reducing hospital-acquired infections, while paying less to those who miss the goals. The result is the law is viewed as making it difficult for physicians to enter innovative payment arrangements because they are not susceptible to fair market value assessment, a Stark requirement. These prohibitions are seen as interfering with key factors related to value-based care. Unlike the Anti-Kickback Statute, which is enforced by the OIG, the Stark law is considered regulatory and falls under CMS jurisdiction. From a regulatory standpoint, there is only so much that CMS can do to make substantive changes. Any real changes in the law will have to come from Congress.

This is not the first time the CMS has tried to move the easing of rules concerning the Stark law.  In 2015, CMS published a Proposed rule relaxing aspects of the Stark law, including easing of some of the strict liability features of the law and CMS’ burden in dealing with the interpretation of key terms, requirements, and other issues.  After reviewing an enormous amount of self-disclosures, CMS realized that a large part of its docket involved arrangements that may technically violate the statute but do not actually pose significant risks of abuse. Therefore, it appears that CMS seeks to reduce the number of self-disclosures reported. However, the proposed update is also intended to account for recent changes relating to health care reform and advancements in patient care and payment methodologies. CMS wanted to ensure that Stark does not inhibit Affordable Care Act (ACA) reforms and these are the same concerns driving the latest initiative.

 

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.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on Google+ or LinkedIn.

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Copyright © 2018 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

Kusserow on Compliance: Addressing the risk of whistleblowers

The DOJ recently reported the fact that 93 percent of its successful civil false claims court actions arose by qui tam relators (whistleblowers) bringing the case to the DOJ’s attention. As such, it is important to understand better how to address the risk of having that happen to your organization. Key factors to be considered are the motivation of most whistleblowers and how to channel them to report internally, rather than going to outside authorities.

Tom Herrmann, JD, while at the OIG, was responsible for coordinating whistleblower cases with the DOJ.  He noted that the common practice for the DOJ, upon receiving a complaint from a qui tam relator, is to have the OIG conduct the preliminary investigation on their behalf. Inasmuch as these False Claims Act (FCA) cases were civil in nature, it was not the usual course to involve the FBI.  As such, he had the opportunity to review the initial complaints and often times meet or discuss with the relator about what caused them to report the problem. He found that there were many reasons given by individuals for becoming qui tam relators. e HhOnly a few qui tam relators indicated their motivation was for the potential reward coming from the case. The most common statement was that because they were unable to obtain a credible, internal reporting channel, they decided to report externally. Credence was given to this as a major motivating factor by the fact that in many cases they did find evidence of many Whistleblowers having reported the problem internally first, and moved to report externally when inadequate attention was give to their complaints. There were also whistleblowers who stated they were motivated by ethical considerations and felt they could not justify allowing a bad situation to continue without taking some sort of action.

Steve Forman, CPA, has over 30 years experience with the OIG, as a compliance officer, health care consultant. He found many situations where an employee’s reporting a potential violation of law, regulation, or organization Code or policy was the subject of adverse action or reprisal.  In some cases, the whistleblower moved to a legal course of action to protect themselves.  Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find members of management engaging in retaliatory actions against employees trying to expose wrongdoing. In some cases, these same people turned to attorneys who led them to become qui tam relators. A key factor in managing the risk of having a whistleblower is to understand what motivates them to go externally with and report a problem; and try to channel them to resolve the issue internally.  It is also important to remember that making the decision to report a problem to the compliance officer is viewed as taking considerable risk with regards to their job, reputation with their fellow employees, and their future financial security.  Reassurance of protection against retaliation is critical. However, for some, that may be not enough.  This means the option to report anonymously is also important.

Carrie Kusserow has overseen many IRO and Compliance Expert engagements with clients who signed Corporate Integrity Agreements with the OIG. She noted that in several cases, while carrying out the duties of the engagement, her consultants identified the original whistleblower and found in several cases they had tried to raise the issues internally, before deciding to go outside the organization and become a qui tam relator. In other cases, the whistleblower reported not trusting the hotline or compliance office to protect them against retaliation. The lesson to be learned about avoiding external whistleblowing is to ensure that internal compliance channels operate credibly and properly. This also means taking prompt action to follow on any complaints or allegations of wrongdoing. It also means that strong policies and procedures to protect individuals reporting potential wrongdoing must be implemented and followed. This includes permitting employees to be able to report anonymously or if they do identify themselves that they will be detected in their confidentiality law.

Tips for Compliance Officers

  1. Ensure reporting suspected wrongdoing is stressed in the code, policies and training
  2. Review and update hotline-related polices/procedures (confidentiality, anonymity, non-retaliation, duty to report, etc.)
  3. Ensure a 24/7 hotline operated externally, as internal ones are less trusted and unavailable at all times
  4. Look to expand and increase compliance communication channels beyond just the hotline
  5. Promote the reporting of wrongdoing (newsletter, intranet, training programs, etc.)
  6. Find ways to provide feedback so that employees know reporting is taken seriously
  7. Consider engaging experts to evaluate compliance communication channels effectiveness
  8. Allegations of potential violations of law or regulations must be promptly investigated
  9. Ensure that individuals are trained and competent to conduct prompt investigations
  10. Disclose promptly all cases where investigation indicates potential violations
  11. Review and update investigation and resolution of allegations polices/procedures
  12. Take appropriate disciplinary action against identified wrongdoers
  13. Consider having on call experts in conducting investigations to assist if needed
  14. Understand CMS and OIG self disclosure protocols that may avoid FCA investigation
  15. Ensue investigations finding of potential violations of law are promptly disclosed to the DOJ

 

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.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on Google+ or LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Kusserow on Compliance Newsletter

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