In cooperation with several industry associations, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued guidance to help governing boards of health care organizations perform their compliance duties. The guidance was developed through collaboration between the Association of Healthcare Internal Auditors, the American Health Lawyers Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, and the OIG. The compliance guidance repeats some guidance for other industry groups, such as a compliance program is not a “one size fits all” program. However, the guidance also contains information that is particularly applicable to governing boards.

The guidance addresses the following issues relating to a governing board’s oversight and review of compliance functions: (1) roles of, and relationships between, the organization’s audit, compliance, and legal departments; (2) mechanism and process for reporting within the organization; (3) identifying regulatory risk; and (4) encouraging enterprise-wide accountability for achieving compliance goals and objectives.

The guidance offers some suggestions specific to governing boards about compliance, including the following.

  • The guidance states that boards should develop a formal plan to stay current with the regulatory landscape so that the board can ask more pertinent questions and make informed decisions. The plan may involve periodic updates from staff or review of materials provided by staff or outside educational programs.
  • The guidance states that a board can raise its expertise level about regulatory and compliance matters by adding to the board or consulting with a regulatory, compliance, or legal professional.
  • There should be a process to ensure appropriate access to information, which can be set out in a formal charter document or other documents.
  • The guidance recommends that boards evaluate and discuss how management works together to address risk.
  • The guidance states that the board should set and enforce reporting to the board compliance-related information in a format that satisfies the interests or concerns of board members.

The board may want to consider scheduling regular executive sessions to discuss compliance and quality functions to encourage open communication.