Recently, U.S. Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson gave a keynote address at a compliance convention in which he focused on some important components of compliance, two of which are customization of compliance programs, and communication.
Mr. Levinson explained that no two compliance plans are alike. Rather, each compliance plan needs to be customized to meet the unique and individual needs and risks of the provider. This message is not new because it is stated in the Office of Inspector General’s Compliance Program Guidances. But it is reassuring to providers, their compliance officers and their managers to hear the message delivered by the Inspector General, because in implementing their compliance programs, they often encounter situations in which the unique risks of the provider require a judgment call regarding policies, risk analysis and even in applying discipline. It is important to communicate and document the bases for these judgment calls, however, so that if they are ever called into question, the factors considered are apparent for all involved.
In his speech, the Inspector General also stressed the importance of communication in his discussion of a recent enforcement. In the Stark Law case against Halifax Health Medical Center in Florida, the hospital’s compliance officer had informed the board of directors of potential violations of the Stark Law in the hospital’s arrangements with oncologists and neurosurgeons. The board did not heed the warnings of the compliance officer. The OIG settled its case with Halifax which will pay $85 million and has entered into a 5-year corporate integrity agreement. In his speech, Mr. Levinson emphasized how crucial it is for provider management to listen to their compliance officers. He stated:
“It really is so significant a flaw for management when compliance officials are not listened to as they identify and say we have an issue, we need to mitigate it, we need to resolve it.”
Access of officers to the boards of directors of their organizations is a topic of frequent discussion among compliance professionals. It is important for boards and management to give ample time and attention to their compliance officers. After all, speaking or writing is only half of the equation in communication; the other half is the listening and understanding. This is a lesson learned the hard way by Halifax which is paying one of the largest enforcement penalties to date.
MPA is available to assist with board training and communication. The MPA Client Gateway offers convenient electronic access for both management and employee training.