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Dental Practice Compliance Programs

Should a Dental Practice Have a Compliance Program?

Compliance programs are an accepted requirement in most of the health care industry.  There seems to have been less importance attached to the establishment of systematic compliance programs in the dental practice area.  I believe part of the reason why the dental industry has lagged behind other health care providers in the compliance area is that there is very little Medicare reimbursement involved in the usual dental practice.  Certainly much of the reason for compliance program involve Medicare enforcement actions.  However, dental practice that under-emphasize compliance are assuming a great deal of unnecessary risk.

Certainly some dental providers receive Medicare reimbursement for a portion of their services.  Oral surgeons for example regularly perform services that are covered under the Medicare program.  Many practices accept Medicaid reimbursement or reimbursement from other Federal health programs.  Additionally, practices that receive reimbursement from federally funded health care plans are required under Federal law to establish and effective compliance program that contains the “core elements” set forth in Federal law.  The Federal standard required dental providers who receive this type of reimbursement to actively operate a compliance programs that is effective in preventing and detecting criminal, civil and administrative violations and in promoting the quality of care that is provided by the practice consistent with federal regulations.

There are many reasons beyond reimbursement requirements to operate a compliance program.   Dental practices must maintain systematic process to assure compliance with OSHA regulations, HIPAA and state privacy regulations, and a variety of other federal and state rules and regulations.  Some of these regulatory areas are subject to aggressive governmental oversight including periodic audits and inspections.  Other areas are not subject to aggressive enforcement.  All of these areas, even those where there is no aggressive enforcement, can expose the dental practice to liability if a complaint is made by an employee, former employer, patient, competitor, or other individual.  Some of these potential complainants can even establish whistleblower status and can bring private action for recovery.

Some practices that implement compliance programs and perform audits over billing and collection practices are pleasantly surprised when they discover that they have actually been under-billing.  Audit of potential risk areas can indeed identify missed revenue opportunities.  This does not happen in every instance, but there are circumstances where the audit process actually identifies new revenue streams.

For most providers, operating a compliance program will have the benefit of deterring potential future liability.  If detected early, it is much easier to deal with a potential infraction when it is self-discovered before the potential damages become insurmountable.  It is one thing to deal with potential over-payment or failure to follow a regulation.  It is much more difficult to resolve these issues when they are brought into the open from an outside party.  By that time, potential sanctions may have multiplied to an unmanageable level.  For example, if the False Claims Act applies, a simple over-payment can be multiplied by 3, plus $11,000 to $21,000 per claim can be added to the otherwise manageable over-payment amount.

In summary, there is every reason for a dental practice to actively operate a robust compliance program.  Those that believe that a compliance program is not needed because Medicare reimbursement is not present should think again.  Eventually, it is highly likely that the failure to maintain an active compliance program will catch up with you.  I have represented many health care providers who have been subject to the negative impact of not operating a compliance program.  I can tell you that they all share the same regret that they did not deal with compliance proactively while they had the opportunity.

For those of you who are still reading, I want to briefly describe the 7 basic elements of a compliance program.  Each of these elements can be expounded on further, but I will touch on them briefly here.

  1. Appointment of a high ranking member of management to act as compliance officer. In a smaller practice, a compliance responsible individual can be used.  Compliance program structure can be scalable to the size and resources of the provider and the nature and complexity of the business.
  2. Compliance policies should be put in place that describe the process to be used to conduct ongoing compliance activities. Compliance policies will define compliance operations and will also outline requirements in risk areas that are specific to the nature of the practice.
  3. Employees, contractors and others must be trained on basic compliance program elements and risk areas that are applicable to their job functions.
  4. Creating a compliance reporting system and protecting those who make complaints from retaliation or retribution.
  5. Enforcing disciplinary standards that hold employees responsible for following compliance requirements.
  6. Operating a system to continually identify areas of potential compliance risk within the practice.
  7. Maintaining a system of appropriately responding to identified compliance problems through creation of appropriate corrective action, self-disclosure or other appropriate action.

Putting these elements in place through adoption and operation of appropriate policies and standards establishes the central elements of the compliance process.  It is critical that the activity does not stop at the establishment of policies.  A compliance program must be continually operated as a living a breathing process to identify and address risk in a practice manner.  The compliance officer or responsible individual is responsible for assuring the continued operation of the program.

Risk areas in a dental practice include reimbursement rules, licensing and certification standards, OSHA regulations, HIPAA and state patient privacy laws, infection control standards, radiation regulations and standards, documentation requirements, controlled substance regulations and a host of other state and Federal regulatory requirements.  Your compliance program in effect creates the process to identify risk and proactively examine potential areas of risk to determine compliance.  An actively operating compliance program is a necessary elements of every dental practice.

 

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John H. Fisher

Health Care Counsel
Ruder Ware, L.L.S.C.
500 First Street, Suite 8000
P.O. Box 8050
Wausau, WI 54402-8050

Tel 715.845.4336
Fax 715.845.2718

Ruder Ware is a member of Meritas Law Firms Worldwide

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