Compliance professionals and their bosses might not be in sync when it comes to what compliance actually involves, according to a survey released Thursday by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics and the Health Care Compliance Association.
It's a finding that comes as the U.S. Justice Department and whistle-blowers continue to go after healthcare companies for alleged wrongdoing. It also follows a memo issued last year by U.S. Deputy Attorney Sally Quillian Yates indicating that the Justice Department is committed to holding individuals, not just companies, accountable for corporate misconduct.
Nearly half of the 328 compliance professionals who responded to the survey given during the second quarter of 2016 said that promoting an ethical culture is the primary objective of an ethics and compliance program. The next largest group of respondents, 35.4%, cited preventing and detecting misconduct as the primary objective.
Those who took the survey, however, don't think their managers or board members agree.
More than 42% of those who responded to the survey said they believe their organizations' management sees meeting regulatory requirements as the primary goal of their compliance programs. Most of the respondents also said they believe their boards see the main goal of compliance programs as preventing and detecting misconduct, meeting regulatory requirements or protecting their corporate reputations.
“It seems to suggest compliance officers believe managers see it as meeting an external requirement but not as something that is part of the way the organization does business,” said Adam Turteltaub, vice president of strategic initiatives and international programs for the groups behind the survey. “I think we're always less likely to embrace things we believe are externally imposed.”
That's a shame, he said, especially as compliance becomes increasingly important.
“The public and regulatory and shareholders' tolerance for wrongdoing is a lot lower than it used to be,” Turtletaub said. “The consequences are so much greater than they were.”
He acknowledged, however, it's also possible those who responded to the survey aren't accurately perceiving their bosses feelings about compliance.
Last month, the Justice Department published an interim final rule saying that fraud penalties for healthcare provider and others will soon double, rising from a current minimum of $5,500 per false claim submitted to a government program to $10,781. Penalties for violations of the anti-kickback statute will also rise from $11,000 to $21,563.
Also, in 2015, two-thirds of federal whistle-blower lawsuits targeted healthcare entities. Often, healthcare providers settle False Claims Act cases because of the threat of those fines and triple damages. For example, Tuomey Healthcare System is Sumter, S.C., agreed to settle with the government for $72.4 million, after a federal appeals court upheld a $237 million False Claims Act verdict against it last year.
The Health Care Compliance Association has 10,914 members, and the Society of Corporate Compliance has 5,858 members.