Compliance efforts still surging, HCCA reports

The rapid growth of health care compliance programs has not abated, according to the third annual survey of health care compliance officers released last week by the Philadelphia-based Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA). In fact, an estimated 71% of health care organizations now have an active compliance program in place, compared to 55% who reported an active program last year.

"I think we are seeing a virtual saturation in terms of programs being established, and that movement is still afoot," observes Jeff Marr of Walker Information in Indianapolis, who designed and implemented the survey. On the other hand, he says, the survey shows that having a plan in place and operating it effectively are often two different things.

HCCA’s immediate past president, Brent Saunders, points out that even though 71% of respondents report an active program in place, 66% also report that program development and implementation is the biggest issue facing their organization. According to Saunders, that shows that while many compliance officers have been able to develop significant infrastructure, it is still a challenge to turn that infrastructure into a proactive system that mitigates problems before they pose major risk.

Saunders also points out that one of the top three goals among compliance officers this year is monitoring and auditing. In fact, the number of respondents citing that as a top goal has more than doubled from last year — 88% compared to 41%. The other top goals for this year included education and training (82%) and conducting effectiveness evaluations (72%).

Saunders adds that last year’s survey reflected a shift away from "enforcement-driven" compliance to "process-improvement" compliance. "Now we see people trying to make the program effective," he says. "Hopefully, next year we will be increasingly benchmarking and assessing the effectiveness of what we have done this year."

Other key findings included in the HCCA survey include the following:

- 82% have developed a compliance officer job description (compared to 71% in 1999).

- 57% have stand-alone departments with budget responsibilities and staff.

- 39% of compliance officers qualify for incentive compensation (identical to last year) and 60% project a salary increase of 3% to 5%.

- 17% of the organizations responding are under a corporate integrity agreement.

You can obtain a copy of HCCA’s 2nd Annual Profile of Health Care Compliance Officers on HCCA’s Web site at www.hcca-info.org.