(March 31, 2016): Many of the dental practices around the country do not participate in the Medicaid program and only a small number of dental practices provide services that might qualify for coverage under Medicare. Notably, the fact that most dental practices only accept cash or a handful of private payor plans significantly reduces their overall level of regulatory risk. Unfortunately, restricting a dental practice’s payor mix isn’t enough to ensure legal and statutory compliance. As one recent case reflects, dental practices must remain diligent in their efforts to conduct exclusion screening on applicants prior to employment. In the case discussed below, the failure to conduct screening ultimately led to the falsification of a number of prescriptions by a practice employee for painkillers.
I. Basic Case Facts:
In a recent Washington State case, a suspended dental hygienist working as a dental office manager took advantage of her position and to gain access to the practice’s prescription software. After receiving an anonymous tip, a local police detective contacted the dentist in charge of the office and conducted an audit of the prescriptions ordered using the practice’s software. At that time, it was found that the office manager furtively used the prescription software to print out at least 15 orders for patients who were not patients of the practice. Upon reviewing the list of individuals who were not patients of the practice, the dentist noted that a number of the individuals were family members of the office manager. The detective subsequently obtained video recordings showing that the dental practice’s office manager had in filled a number of the unauthorized prescriptions.
II. Background -- Exclusion Screening / OIG Screening:
The Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) has been delegated the authority to “exclude” individuals and entities from participating in federal health benefits programs. Exclusion actions taken by HHS-OIG can be either mandatory or permissive. Regardless of which type of exclusion is pursued by the agency, the action has the impact of barring the participation of an individual or entity in federal health benefit programs, until such time as the agency affirmatively agrees to reinstate the individual or entity back into the program. Similarly, states also have the authority to exclude individuals and entities from participating in state health care benefit programs, such as Medicaid. As of today, 38 states maintain their own exclusion lists that are separate from those maintained by HHS-OIG. Adding in the System for Award Management (SAMs) database maintained by the General Services Administration, there are currently a total of 40 exclusion databases that must be checked every 30 days. Importantly, neither Medicare nor Medicaid will pay for the claim if an excluded individual or entity contributed in any way to the basket of services provided to the patient — either directly or indirectly.
III. Lessons Learned When Conducting Exclusion Screening / OIG Screening of Your Staff:
If your dental practice does not participate in Medicare or Medicaid, why should you care whether your employees, agents, vendors and contractors have been subjected to exclusion screening / OIG screening of all federal and state exclusion databases? Ultimately, it comes down to “risk.” Regardless of whether your practice takes Medicaid, would you want to employ someone who has been barred from working for a Medicaid provider because he or she has been convicted of fraud? Similarly, would you want to employ an individual who has been barred from employment by a Medicaid provider because their professional license has been suspended or revoked? To effectively reduce your level of risk, we recommend that you screen your employees, agents and contractors on a monthly basis. Exclusion screening / OIG screening is a fundamental component of an effective Compliance Plan. There are a number of companies that can provide these screening services for a low monthly cost. Two of our attorneys established a company, Exclusion Screening, LLC to conduct these screening services. For information on their services, you can call: 1 (800) 294-0952.
Robert W. Liles, M.B.A., M.S., J.D., serves as Managing Partner at Liles Parker, Attorneys & Counselors at Law. Liles Parker is a boutique health law firm, with offices in Washington DC, Houston TX, San Antonio TX, McAllen TX and Baton Rouge LA. Robert represents dental practices and other health care providers around the country in connection with claims audits by federal and state-engaged specialty contractors. Our firm also represents health care providers in connection with federal and state regulatory reviews and investigations. For a free consultation, call Robert at: 1 (800) 475-1906.