Kusserow on Compliance: OIG cases involving sanctioned parties and tips to avoid violations

Compliance Officers must screen employees against the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE). This is stressed in all of the OIG’s compliance guidance documents. CMS makes it a condition of participation and enrollment. The LEIE continues to change and grow with more than 3,000 exclusions added annually. Failure to screen employees, medical staff, contractors, and vendors results in a great risk. The OIG may consider claims that include work or products from a sanctioned party to be false and fraudulent. Violations can result in monetary penalties. Most cases that deal with this issue are brought to the OIG’s attention through the “Self-Disclosure Protocol.”  In all the recent cases posted, the OIG imposed penalties, but the penalties were mitigated by the fact the matters were self-disclosed—as a result, none of these cases resulted in a Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA). The OIG posts a number of these cases on its website. The following are examples of recent actions against organizations that engaged individuals they knew or should have known were excluded from participation in the federal health care programs:

  • Southwest Trinity Management, LLC (STM), in Oklahoma paid $141,986.36 in settlement for employing an excluded licensed practical nurse that provided items or services that were billed to Federal health care programs.
  • Diamonds & Pearls Health Services, LLC (DPHS), Cleveland, Ohio paid $75,471.92 for employing an excluded individual who was a scheduling/staffing coordinator, provided items or services to DPHS patients that were billed to Federal health care programs.
  • Center for Ear, Nose Throat & Allergy, P.C. (CENTA) in Indiana, paid $51,564.14 for employing an excluded medical records file clerk, provided items or services to CENTA’s patients that were billed to Federal health care programs.
  • MHMR, Fort Worth, Texas, paid $97,869.78 for employing a program director who had been excluded to provide items or services to clients who were receiving services funded by a Medicaid waiver program.
  • Shawnee Health Services (Shawnee), Carterville, Illinois, paid $107,761.08 as result of employing an excluded individual as a case manager, provided items or services to clients that were receiving services under a Medicaid waiver program.
  • Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) paid $39,343.61 as result of employing an excluded hospice social worker that provided items or services to patients of a community based hospice operated by ADH.
  • Century Pharmacy (Century), Brooklyn, New York, paid $10,000 for an employed excluded individual, who assisted in filling prescriptions in addition to performing other clerical tasks, provided items or services to Century patients that were billed to Federal health care programs.
  • Sundance Behavioral Healthcare System (Sundance), Texas, paid $49,183.48 for an employed sanctioned licensed vocational nurse that provided items or services to patients that were billed to Federal health care programs.
  • ASAP Professional Home Health (ASAP), Houston, Texas, paid $21,797.76 for an employed excluded attendant, provided items or services to ASAP patients that were billed to Federal health care programs.

Practical Screening Tips

  1. Ensure periodic sanction screening of employees, medical staff, contractors, and vendors against the LEIE—best practice is monthly screening.
  2. Inasmuch as most states have developed their own exclusion database, with many states mandating monthly screenings, care should be taken to understand and meet state screening requirements.
  3. Inasmuch as most LEIE exclusions arise from another underlying court, state agency, or licensure board action, it is advisable to also conduct background checks and seek written assurances in applications that prospective employees, contractors, and vendors have not been subject to any prior court or licensure board actions.
  4. It is common for individuals that may be the subject of an investigation, but not yet sanctioned with final actions, to be under investigation for considerable time, therefore it is a best practice to require as a condition of employment, gaining staff privileges, or engagement for the applicant to attest that they have 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 that they must promptly report any notice of investigation that involves them.
  5. 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.

Daniel Peake of the Compliance Resource Center (CRC) works with many organizations in ensuring proper sanction screening and from that experience offers a number of practical tips to avoid creating an actionable violation.  He can be reached at dpeake@strategicm.com or (703) 236-9850.

 

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: Using sanction-screening tools vs. outsourcing the entire process

In order to save time and costs, more and more health care organizations have been moving to outsource functions that are not core business activities. Compliance programs have been part of that trend: (1) 80 percent of compliance offices use vendors to provide hotline services, (2) 50 percent of compliance offices use vendors to provide policy development tools, and (3) two-thirds of compliance offices use vendors to provide E-learning tools. Included in the growing list of outsourced tasks has been the movement to address the rapidly growing cost and time commitment obligations related to sanction-screening. Two-thirds of compliance offices use a vendor search engine tools to assist in sanction-screening that saves an organization from downloading the sanction databases and developing a search engine. This is a trend driven by the rapid development of many new databases against which to screen employees, medical professionals, contractors, vendors, etc., including the following:

  • OIG List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE)
  • GSA Excluded Parties List System (EPLS)
  • 40 Medicaid states now have sanction data bases requiring monthly screening
  • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
  • FDA

All this has increased the burden of sanction-screening exponentially, not only for the compliance office, but also human resource management for new hires and periodic screening of current employees and procurement with vendors and contractors. Medical credentialing is involved as result of having to screen physicians who are granted staff privileges. Using vendors has been a great help, but the most difficult part of the process is resolving “potential hits.” This can be a considerable effort and many organizations have to dedicate staff for investigation and resolution of these hits. It is complicated by the fact that most sanction data does not provide sufficient information to make positive identification. As a result of this heavy burden, many have moved beyond simply using a vendor tool to outsourcing the entire process to vendors. The following address selecting a sanction-screening vendor and outsourcing the process.

 

Tips for selecting sanction-screening vendor

 

Tips for outsourcing the sanction-screening process

  • Determine the cost of moving from use of a vendor search engine tool to outsourcing the screening, along with investigation and resolution of “potential hits.”
  • Inquire as to the methodology they follow in resolving potential “hits,” a critical part of any screening effort.
  • Ensure the vendor provides a certified report of the results that can be made part of the compliance office records.
  • Review an example of the type of reports they would provide to determine if it meets the documentary needs of the organization.

 

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: Appealing exclusions–practical advice

Attorneys and consultants frequently have sanctioned clients desperately wanting to appeal and overturn the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) decision on exclusion, adding them to the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE). The desperation is driven by the fact that exclusion is tantamount to putting them out of business. Few health care providers of services and products can function without access to federal health care programs and trying to continue servicing in that area after exclusion represents further violation of law with increased penalties.

Tom Herrmann, J.D., served over 20 years in the Office of Counsel to the Inspector General and as Appellate Judge for the Medicare Appeals Counsel and is frequently engaged to assist in Medicare appeals. He explained that there is, indeed, a process for appeal on exclusion to an HHS Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), the HHS Departmental Appeals Board (“DAB”), and ultimately the federal courts.  However, he warns that trying to appeal exclusions imposed by the OIG is not generally advisable, in that they are rarely overturned.  This is because most exclusion actions, both mandatory and discretionary, are derivative of a prior official action, whether it is court conviction or licensure board revocation.  Upon appeal, the underlying predicate action for exclusion may not be challenged through the established administrative and judicial review process.  The governing regulations provide further that an ALJ may not “review the exercise of discretion by the OIG to exclude an individual or entity under section 1128(b) of the Act, or determine the scope or effect of the exclusion.”   Moreover, the ALJ is prohibited from setting “a period of exclusion at zero, or reduce[ing] a period of exclusion to zero, in any case where the ALJ finds that an individual or entity committed an act described in section 1128(b) of the Act.”

Furthermore, an excluded party can affect entities with who affiliated. Should a provider permit an excluded party to be involved in services, it will create a liability to that organization.  As a condition of participation in Medicare/Medicaid, it is the affirmative duty and responsibility of the organization to ensure that any provider of services or products that is included in claims submitted for payment to those programs are licensed, qualified and NOT excluded.  To engage excluded parties places in jeopardy the entity’s status as a provider.  Furthermore, it is the OIG’s position that all claims submitted that include anything from a sanctioned provided may be considered false and potentially fraudulent.  Providers should take steps to avoid being poisoned by excluded parties.  Sanction screening can be a challenge because of multiple exclusion databases and variations of names and data.

Practical tips

Organizations should consider the following:

  • The fact that most exclusions arise from court or licensing agency actions underscores the importance of sanction screening and conducting background investigations prior to engaging employees, contractors, and vendors, to ensure they have not been subject to adverse actions by these authorities.
  • Screen parties before engaging them and thereafter periodically (e.g. monthly) against the LEIE or relevant State sanction lists.
  • Ensure data used in screening is accurate and up to date. Frequently, sanctioned parties disguise their exclusion with a name change (e.g. spouse surname), variations on name (particularly significant in the case of names that are transliterated).
  • Include on any application for employment or for medical privilege a statement that they are not under investigation and have not been subject of adverse action by any duly authorized enforcement agency.
  • Check the enrollment and exclusion status of physicians and other non-physician practitioners that routinely order or prescribe, as any services ordered or prescribed by an excluded health care practitioner will not be eligible for program payments.
  • If a party is verified to be on an exclusion list, take immediate action to terminate the party; determine the monetary exposure of the services involving that party that was billed to Federal health care programs; and disclose the findings to 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.

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: Meeting sanction-screening requirements

As the HHS Inspector General, I created what is now referred to as the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE). This was followed by various HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) compliance guidance documents that call for screening employees, physicians, vendors, and contractors against the LEIE. Subsequently, the OIG encouraged screening against the General Service Administration’s (GSA) Excluded Parties List System (EPLS), now part of the System for Award Management (SAM).  Other federal sanction databases worth screening are maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and FDA, as well as the Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Terrorist Watch List. As a condition of enrollment, providers may not employ or contract with individuals or entities that are excluded from participation in any federal health care program.  All claims and costs associated with an excluded party may be viewed as false and fraudulent and, potentially, leading to significant financial penalties and more.  The OIG Special Advisory Bulleting on the Effect of Exclusion provides very useful information in assessing this risk area

CMS calls for screening, not only against the LEIE, but also the GSA debarment list. It sent letters to State Medicaid Directors calling on them to screen their enrolled providers for exclusions against state Medicaid exclusion databases on a monthly basis. To date, 40 states have moved to establish their own Medicaid sanction lists, with a number of other states in the process of doing the same. This has increased the sanction screening burden exponentially, not only for the compliance office but other departments as well. Human resources management (HRM) normally has the responsibility of screening new hires and periodically screening current employees.  Procurement is also affected because it handles the screening of vendors and contractors.  Lastly, the Medical Credentialing Office must be involved in order to screen physicians who have been granted staff privileges.

Alena Treen, of the Compliance Resource Center (CRC), has more than 15 years’ experience with sanction screening services. She notes that spending time, money, and resources on developing and maintaining a search engine and regularly collecting and updating sanction information from many databases is not very cost effective. This all has to be done before you begin the search process and resolving potential hits.  This option is prohibitive in terms of costs, time, effort, and quality control to guard against errors or omissions.

Carrie Kusserow also has over 15 years’ experience in sanction screening as a compliance officer and consultant. She makes the point that the high cost of using internal resources to develop and manage the sanction-screening process has resulted in the great majority of health care entities subscribing to a vendor service that provides a search engine to their established databases. Vendors can afford the high cost of maintaining the currency of the data because they amortize the costs over many clients. The problem is that vendor quality, cost, and reliability can vary enormously. From experience, she offers the following tips for those considering a vendor:

  1. Know the cost up front with a fixed rate, not based upon per click searches.
  2. The contract should permit cancelling, without cause at any time, if dissatisfied.
  3. Ensure the vendor has liability insurance (preferably $1-3 million).
  4. Determine other services included (e.g. policy templates, regulatory updates, etc.).
  5. Determine how much “help desk” assistance is available to resolve potential hits.

Outsourcing sanction screening process

Jillian Bower has been providing sanction-screening services for years. She says using a vendor’s sanction screening tool to conduct screenings is only part of easing the burden.  The bulk of the effort remains in conducting the actual screening, resolving potential “hits,” and preparing a report for the record to evidence it was all done correctly.  In seeking the right vendor, look for one that includes all those steps in its agreements, but also permits–without added charge–the use of the vendor’s tool for ad hoc and individual screening, as needed.  The vendor also should be prepared to provide certified reports on the results of each round of screening that can be made part of the organization’s permanent record to evidence its completion; it should be available if the OIG or another government agency challenges the organization on meeting this compliance obligation.  Bower says the additional cost of going beyond just using a vendor’s sanction screening tool to having the vendor actually perform the searching and resolve the potential hit is surprisingly inexpensive, when compared against the time and cost of doing the work in-house.  In many cases, it may be actually be less than what some vendors would charge for only using their screening tools.  She stresses the importance of maintaining records of all sanction screenings to evidence that it was conducted properly to avoid penalties.

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.