Kusserow on Compliance: Extending and economizing compliance programs—tools, services and tips

Compliance officers are confronted with a host of ever increasing external regulatory and internal demands with most having inadequate resources to meet all the challenges.  Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly common to add responsibility for HIPAA Privacy to the portfolio of compliance officers’ duties. All of this results in ongoing efforts to find ways to extend capabilities, while being sensitive to limited available resources. There are finite options available. Of course, the preference is to handle all this with internal staff. However, unfortunately for most compliance officers, limitations on increased office staffing limits this option. In some cases, organizations turn to Out-Sourcing their compliance program. This is most often done as a measure to temporarily fill gaps with an Interim Compliance Officer (ICO) when an incumbent leaves, or smaller organizations contracting the function out to an individual or firm to assume responsibility by providing a Designated Compliance Officer (DCO). Co-Sourcing is a third option and “middle ground” between hiring new staff (In-Sourcing) and Out-Sourcing and may prove to be the best strategy available for compliance officers to take huge pressures away, if implemented correctly. It involves using limited vendor services and tools to address key elements in the compliance program.

Co-Sourcing Compliance Services/Tools

The key factor that separates Out-Sourcing from Co-Sourcing is the maintaining control and direction under the compliance officer. It involves using a third-party on an ongoing basis to supplement limited staff resources by carrying part of the workload. It can help bridge the gap without compromising the ability to easily return to a structure where the compliance officer reassumes full operation when staffing issues are resolved. This approach is also recognized by the OIG as a useful solution to where an organization is limited in-house compliance expertise and resources. Compliance Officers are increasingly employing this as a means as a practical solution when confronted with a staffing shortage and offers the advantage of using limited, rather than full time services. It also may permit gaining access to a range of specialist without having them full time on payroll.

Common Types of Co-Sourcing Tools/Services

Co-Sourcing Expert Services

There are a number of advantages of engaging outside experts for limited scope of work, especially to address staff shortage or obtaining technical skills that do not exist in-house. Careful use of vendors to supplement the Compliance Office can not only gain access to experts not available in-house, but can save time, money, and effort; while maintaining flexibility to end an arrangement at anytime, when no longer needed. The following are common examples of Co-Sourced services:

Co-Sourcing Tips

  1. Clearly define duties, tasks, responsibilities, and methodology for vendor to follow.
  2. Ensure the agreement is flexible to expand or contract levels of service as needed.
  3. Look for providers that have industry specific expertise.
  4. Check experience and seek references of the firm.
  5. Ensure individuals provided have the needed skills, experience, and expertise.
  6. Bigger is not always better, as smaller niche firms are more likely to provide better, less expensive services.
  7. If planning to Co-Source for multiple tools and services, consider seeking discounts for a “bundling” arrangement.

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

Kusserow on Compliance: Effective hotline programs

All healthcare organizations need confidential compliance communication channels. First and foremost among them is a hotline. By definition, all effective compliance programs should have a hotline. It is an important avenue of communication between employees and management, in that it permits employees to report sensitive matters outside the normal supervisory channels.  The reality is that developing and monitoring a hotline is a critical part of any effective compliance program. It provides an avenue of communication that permits employees to report sensitive matters outside the normal supervisory channels. The compliance officer bears the responsibility of constantly reviewing and improving the effectiveness of the hotline operation.  The US Sentencing Commission, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), and Department of Justice (DOJ) all call for having a hotline, as well as other authorities, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for publicly traded companies and the federal courts in connection with unlawful harassment. Failure to establish positive internal compliance reporting channels often results in reporting externally to the OIG and DOJ from “whistleblowers.” The challenge is establishing effective internal compliance communication. Today, it is the exception to find organizations trying to manage a hotline function internally. The fact is that any advantage of internally operated hotlines is more than off-set by the disadvantages.

From a practical standpoint, it simply is not cost effective to operate a hotline 24/7 internally.  Even those that decide to operate and manage the function in house are confronted with a number of challenges—it is extremely inefficient, costly and seldom meets any minimum standards. Hotline numbers will need to be “backstopped” against tracing and all caller identification systems have to be blocked. People answering the calls in house should not be highly visible to the work force. Confidence comes from neither party being known to the other. Hotline vendors have the training and experience to handle complainants. Callers are generally nervous and afraid and knowing they are providing information to an outside party generally is reassuring. They always raise the question of whether anonymity is truly offered and whether employees will ever sufficiently trust calling an employee. It has become the standard practice for organizations to outsource their hotline to a vendor.  However, evaluating those providing the best service at the right price is a challenge. The following are questions that can be used to determine a properly qualified vendor. Those failing key tests should be avoided as they may prove to be a future liability.

 

Questions for hotline vendors

  1. Cost of Service. Does the vendor charge an established fixed rate or sliding rate based upon number of calls? Seek a fixed, not a variable rate, based upon number or time of calls. A good rule of thumb is that the cost of a hotline service should not exceed $1-3 per employee per year.

 

  1. Industry Focus. Can the vendor evidence having understanding and expertise of issues related to the health care industry? Failing to understand healthcare standards and regulatory matters limits the ability to properly debrief callers. Ask for a breakdown of the types of clients they serve by industries.

 

  1. Hours of Service. Does the vendor provide 24/7 service? If not, don’t use them.

 

  1. Call Centers. Does the vendor provide call services? If so, avoid them completely. Call centers provide outbound calls used to promote services and products. Others answer after hour services for businesses (doctors, plumbers, electricians, etc.) and relate messages to their clients. The people doing this are performing a clerical function and answering hotline calls requires more professional expertise. Furthermore, there is the risk of having calls interrupted by a call for some needing emergency service.

 

  1. Hotline Service Types. Does the vendor provide multiple levels of service for (a) receiving live operator calls and (b) a web-based reporting system that prompts individual complainants? One level alone is not enough.

 

  1. Avoiding Vendor Contract Traps. Does the contract permit cancellation at any time with a simple 30 day notice? If not, don’t use them. Staying with a vendor should be because of good service, not because of being locked into them by contract terms. If you have a current contract, check the termination clauses to see if cancelling a contract is cumbersome. If it is, ask to renegotiate the termination clause. If they decline, then take steps to follow termination procedures in the contract.

 

  1. Hotline Number. Does the vendor want to use their phone number? This is a common vendor trap to lock in users to their service. You advertise their number everywhere and to change would necessitate changing all the places you have advertise the number. Always use and own your own hotline number that can be pointed to a vendor.

 

  1. Language Translation. Does the vendor provide a language translation service to address non-English speakers?

 

  1. Check Vendor Background. What is the level of hotline experience among the ownership, management, and operation of the service?

 

  1. Length of Hotline Experience. How many years of experience can the vendor evidence in the management of hotline operations?

 

  1. Policies, Procedures, and Protocols. Does the vendor provide advice on developing operating protocols for following up an allegations and complaints received through the hotline?

 

  1. Business Associate Agreement (BAA). Does the vendor offer to sign a BAA to meet HIPAA protected health information (PHI) requirements for any patient related information received through the hotline? If they don’t know what that means, forget them.

 

  1. Timelines. Will the vendor agree to provide a full written report within one business day of receipt of the call and for urgent matters, immediate notification?

 

  1. Report Delivery Security. Does the vendor deliver call reports by the most secure means? It is critical to establish a secure call report submission process to a specific responsible party and to an alternate should the primary contact be unavailable? Any delivery of reports via fax or email lack necessary security. It is critical that reports are secured to protect those filing the report, as well as those who are subject of the report or mentioned in them. HIPAA PHI, proprietary and confidential data, and personnel information must be protected. Web-based reporting is the most secure with notification of a report being provided via email.

 

  1. Routine vs. Urgent Reporting. Does the vendor assist in establishing a process that alerts the primary contact to any urgent report received? A delay in reporting a serious issue could result in potential liabilities.

 

  1. Insurance. Does the vendor provide at least one to three million dollars liability coverage? If your vendor does not have this insurance, consider changing over to one that provides this assurance.

 

  1. Caller Contact Information. Does the vendor have procedures for providing callers with a means to call back without disclosing their identity?

 

  1. Personalized Service. Does the vendor provide the identity or identities of individuals available to respond to any issues or question that may arise, whether it relates to call reports, invoice issues, or providing general advice? Not having easy access to someone or having to go through a phone system moving you from one office to another before you find a stranger who may or may not be able to answer your questions can be frustrating. If possible, seek an identified accounts manager who will be responsible for any and all issues that arise under the contract.

 

  1. Training and Assistance. Does the vendor provide guidance on the best way to promote understanding of the hotline?

 

  1. Other Useful Benefits. Are there any other services or benefit provided under the contract? This would include such things as supporting policy and procedures for hotline management, poster templates, newsletters, etc. For smaller organizations, these benefits may exceed even the service fees paid to the vendor. Find out what they offer.

 

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.

Kusserow on Compliance: OIG issues first 2017 Semi-Annual report—1,422 exclusions in first half of 2017

The OIG released is first semi-annual report for 2017 which included the number of exclusion actions taken. There were a total of 1,422 individuals and entities they excluded from Medicare, Medicaid, and other Federal health care programs. Most of the exclusions resulted from convictions for crimes relating to Medicare or Medicaid, for patient abuse or neglect, or as a result of license revocation. The OIG posts all such actions on its List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE).  In its compliance guidance, the OIG calls for screening of all individuals and entities engaged by or with whom they do business against the LEIE. CMS also makes such screening a condition of participation and enrollment. The OIG has a number of Administrative Sanction authorities whereby they have added steadily to the LEIE database. In the last three years the OIG added over 10,000 exclusions to the LEIE.

OIG Enforcement Authorities

Tom Herrmann, JD, is a nationally recognized health care compliance consultant.  He served for a number of years in the OIG Counsel’s Office as Chief of the Administrative Litigation Branch, and supervised the litigation of cases involving the imposition of civil monetary penalties and program exclusions. He explained that the OIG has been delegated the authorities to impose Civil Monetary Penalties, assessments, and program exclusion on health care providers and others determined to have engaged in defined wrongdoing. The effect of an OIG exclusion is that no payment may be made for any items or services furnished by an excluded individual or entity, or directed or prescribed by an excluded physician. He noted that in almost all instances where the OIG’s imposition of program exclusion or CMPs is appealed, it is upheld by a HHS Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the HHS Departmental Appeals Board (DAB), and Federal Courts. As such, it is absolutely essential to have ongoing sanction-screening of anyone engaged by a healthcare organization.

Jillian Bower, is another highly experienced health care compliance consultant, who has assisted scores of clients in meeting the sanction-screening obligations through the Compliance Resource Center (CRC). She notes that CMS has been very aggressive in calling for sanction screening, not only of the LEIE, but Debarments posted by the General Services Administration (GSA), as well as pressuring State Medicaid Directors to establish exclusion databases and mandate monthly screening by their enrolled providers. Since then most states have moved to comply with the CMS direction. This has increased the sanction-screening burden greatly for not only for the compliance office, but also human resource management (HRM). Procurement is also affected by the number of vendors and contractors that also have to be screened. Medical credentialing is involved because physicians granted staff privileges have to be screened. In order to meet screening mandates, it is almost a necessity to use a vendor search engine tools to assist in sanction-screening. This saves downloading the sanction databases of all the entities and developing their own search engine. So using a vendor for this purpose is a step in the right direction; however the bulk of the work remains with the organization to do screening and resolving potential “hits” remains with the organization. Altogether this can be a considerable effort and many organizations have to dedicate one or many employees to meet all these obligations. Alternatively, many just outsource the entire process, including verification and certification of results to a vendor

Sanction-Screening Tips

  1. Ensure periodic sanction screening of employees, medical staff, contractors, and vendors against the LEIE, not just at time of engagement but periodically thereafter. An individual or entity may be pass a sanction screen at time of engagement, but later have a sanction imposed.

 

  1. Maintain a complete record of sanction screening to evidence meeting mandates with individual(s) responsible for sanction screening attesting to results each time screening has taken place. If using a vendor to conduct the sanction screening on behalf of the organization, they should provide a full certified report each time they perform their service.

 

  1. Develop a compliance policy and applications requiring as a condition of employment, gaining staff privileges, or engagement, attestation that the individual has not been, nor are they now, the subject of an investigation by any duly authorized regulatory or enforcement agency. It is also advisable to add a condition of engagement that employees must promptly report any notice of investigation that involves them.

 

  1. Care should be taken to meet state Medicaid screening requirements in addition to checking the LEIE. For those organizations that cross state lines, it is particularly important to ensure compliance with state sanction screening mandates that differ from state to state.

 

  1. Inasmuch as most exclusions in the LEIE arise from another underlying court, state agency, or licensure board action, it is critical as part of the credentialing process to verify that health care professionals are duly licensed and not until any restrictions. Engaging or giving staff privileges to individuals who are restricted in their license may be considered by CMS as violating conditions of participation.

 

  1. Educate and inform management and employees on their obligation to promptly report any notification of an adverse action by any duly authorized regulatory or enforcement agency. Policies should be implemented to reinforce this.

 

  1. Consider using a vendor tool to assist in sanction-screening, but compare services and costs to avoid unnecessary expenditures; and consider the cost-benefits of outsourcing then entire sanction-screening process.

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.

Kusserow on Compliance: 4 out of 5 organizations under 1,000 employees overpay for their hotline

It is estimated that over 80 percent of health care organizations with fewer than 1,000 employees overpay their hotline vendor. The reasons for this vary.  For large scale vendors, higher overhead may cause difficulty scaling down their prices; smaller vendors may just be trying to wring out every dollar they can. Another problem among vendors is that some provide both answer-operated and web-based reporting systems, while others do not.   This variance in level of service is a complicating factor.  At any rate, only vendors that provide full-range coverage that offers live-operator answering, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, along with web-based reporting, should be used. For both services, anonymous reporting must be an option.

Fair pricing rates. Today, all health care organizations are cost-sensitive and seek reductions anywhere they can, without loss of quality of service. The general rule of thumb for the price of hotline vendor services for organizations under 1,000 employees that provide both operator-answered and web-based reporting system is that the rates for services should range from around a low of $500 per year to $1,000, depending on employee population. Keep in mind set-up costs for a new service, as well as the continuing service fees. For organization with greater employee populations, the service rate should not exceed $1 per employee per year. Those paying higher rates may want to investigate alternative providers to save expenses.

Recent trends in hotline reporting. Carrie Kusserow, a hotline expert with experience gained from running hotline vendor services and managing hotlines as a compliance officer, reports a significant increase in reporting rates on hotlines. She attributes this to a variety of factors. There has been increased promotion of reporting suspected violations by government agencies and compliance officers, coupled with whistleblower protection laws and regulations. Most organizations now have developed compliance programs that mirror the compliance guidance provided by the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG).  Over time, this has taken hold and become standard operating practice.  This guidance emphasizes the need for organizational commitment to ensuring confidentiality and to those reporting problems, in addition to offering anonymity for those desiring it.  Kusserow quoted Compliance Resource Center reports of a significant trend in the health care sector of an increase in the percentage of anonymous hotline reports, with about three out of four now being submitted that way. In addition, Kusserow explained that compliance officers have become more professional in responding to and investigating complaints and allegations they receive.  This, in turn, has encouraged employees that their reporting will be taken seriously.  Furthermore, compliance training has reinforced the employee’s duty to report problems.

Jillian Bower, of the Compliance Resource Center, has identified another factor contributing to the increase in reporting: the addition of new avenues of communication. As a new generation of technically savvy employees entered the workforce, more employees feel more comfortable using web-based reporting tools; that is becoming the preferred method in increasing numbers.  She notes there has been an increasing percentage of employees who prefer submitting their hotline report through web-based systems, when given that option.   Today, the percentages reported through a live operator and via the web have reach near parity.  As such, it is important the vendor offer the web-based option, and those that do not should not be used.  The end result of all these changes is that the OIG’s advocacy of organizations developing alternative compliance communication channels is a reality.

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.