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Treat today, trouble tomorrow: Talking to staff about vendor gifts

Posted by Margaret Scavotto, JD, CHC on 11/10/20 10:00 AM

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The leaves are falling and pumpkin lattes are being served by the minute, which means vendor gift season is quickly approaching.

By “vendor,” I mean a company that wants your business or referrals. Specifically, Medicare or Medicaid business or referrals. For a hospital, a vendor could be a medical device supplier, a pharmaceutical company, or a nursing home or therapy provider. For a nursing home, a vendor could be a home health company, a hospice, or a wound care company – among many others.

Vendor gifts come in many forms, and in many levels of compliance risk. A company seeking your referrals might drop by “swag” or trinkets for your decision makers or other staff. Some vendors might bring in donuts, lunch, or other food for staff. And sometimes we see more valuable perks: dinners, tickets, or trips. While rarer, we do hear of vendors offering cash for referrals. Sometimes, vendors are well aware these “perks” are offered in exchange for referrals. Other vendors truly mean well and don’t realize their gifts are potentially illegal.

What’s the problem?

Providers who take Medicare and Medicaid cannot give or accept kickbacks: Remuneration (anything of value) in exchange for patient referrals. Providers who accept gifts from vendors run the risk of violating the Anti-Kickback Statute – no matter how expensive or inexpensive the gift. The government worries: Is the vendor providing the perk or gift in exchange for the provider referring patients to that vendor? Wouldn't it be better if vendors were recommended by their merit - or if the patient decided which vendor to use?

What you can do

Before vendor gifts kick in this holiday season, train your staff to recognize improper gifts and how to report them to your compliance officer. Once the cars are lined up at the drive-thru for pumpkin lattes, it’s a good time to start reminding your staff about vendor gifts. If you have in-services scheduled, add on a few minutes to discuss gifts. Or, post flyers, send emails, or put out a text alert with tips to help your staff this holiday season.

Make sure you have a written gifts policy. A “no gifts” policy is the simplest and easiest to follow.

Finally, when an employee comes forward to turn in a gift – thank them. Everyone loves presents, and it’s hard to turn one down. An employee who does so truly has your organization’s culture of compliance in mind and should be commended.

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Topics: Training and Education, Kickbacks and Referrals, compliance

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