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.

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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.

Kusserow on Compliance: OIG continues distancing itself from the GSA debarment list

The HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) has never called for all health care organizations to screen against the General Services Administration (GSA) System for Award Management (SAM). In the past, the OIG has noted in its various compliance guidance documents that the GSA maintains a federal debarment list and cited it as an additional resource available to health care organizations. The fact that SAM was mentioned by the OIG often leads organizations to believe that they must screen against both the OIG’s List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE) and SAM.

Yet, for the last several years, the OIG has distanced themselves from the recommendation to health care organizations to screen SAM. In the OIG’s 2013 “Special Advisory Bulletin on the Effect of Exclusion from Participation in Federal Health Care Programs” the agency addressed questions regarding its position on screening against SAM and contrasted the LEIE and SAM. The OIG made it clear that it would take action only on parties found on the LEIE and that they had no interest or authority to address confirmed hits on the GSA SAM. It also noted that in January 2011, CMS issued final guidance mandating states to screen all enrolled providers monthly against both the LEIE and SAM, but that was CMS’ position, not the OIG’s position.

This means CMS is the only federal government agency calling for health care providers and plans to screen SAM. The CMS Medicare Enrollment Application for Institutional Providers requires applicant hospitals to have a compliance plan that states that the hospital checks all managing employees against the exclusion/debarment lists of both the OIG LEIE and the GSA SAM. For health plans, the regulation states that they cannot contract with any individuals or entities that are debarred by GSA as a condition to maintaining active enrollment status. CMS also requires managed care plans to screen prior to the hiring or contracting of any new employee, temporary employee, volunteer, consultant, governing body member, or First Tier, Downstream or Related Entity (FDR), and on a monthly basis thereafter. It is worthwhile to remember that CMS has not established any enforcement mechanism to deal with providers who have relationships with parties on the SAM debarment list.

As such, distance is growing between OIG and CMS regarding screening against SAM, which has never been user-friendly for health care organizations and yields numerous false matches that then take time and effort in resolve and verify. SAM records simply have very limited identifying information on individuals and entities. GSA designed their system to be used by federal government agencies for procurement purposes, and not for any other purpose or for use by non-federal organizations.

The latest policy statement by the OIG was announced at the recent Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) Compliance Institute. An OIG Deputy Branch Chief noted that the OIG will soon no longer include screening the SAM as part of compliance integrity agreement (CIA) requirements. The OIG must recognize the added burden on organizations to resolve false hits to SAM. However, the agency made it clear that screening against the LEIE is mandatory, whether or not an entity is under a CIA. So, providers and plans are still confronted with CMS’ position on the subject and continue to struggle with all the problems presented by the user unfriendly SAM system.

Jillian Bower, a compliance screening expert stated that “any provider with a large work force, or that engages many contractors or vendors, finds manual screening too costly, especially when multiple federal and state exclusion lists must be included. Most organizations turn to using a vendor that offers a sanction screening application that can greatly facilitate the process by enabling providers to conduct batch screenings of a large number of names simultaneously against multiple federal and state exclusion lists. However, there remains the problem of resolving potential matches and for many the answer is to simply outsource the entire process to a vendor who will conduct sanction screening against all identified exclusion lists, as well as resolving potential matches.”

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