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Avoiding Problems With GSA Debarment Hits: Best Practice Tips to Mitigate Sanction Screening Problems

The Excluded Parties List System (EPLS) is now part of the System for Award Management (SAM), which is maintained by the General Services Administration (GSA). SAM is not user-friendly for health care providers and causes many false hits. These false hits take time and effort to resolve, and also require numerous verifications, as SAM simply has very limited identifying information. However, this problem is not entirely the GSA’s fault since they did not design their system for use by organizations other than federal government agencies or for purposes other than procurement. This is complicated when entities with common sounding names receive far more potential “hits” than they would if screened against the OIG’s List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE).

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is the only government agency that calls providers and plans to screen SAM. The CMS Medicare Enrollment Application for Institutional Providers requires applicant hospitals to have a compliance plan stating that the hospital checks all managing employees against the exclusion/debarment lists of both the OIG LEIE and the GSA SAM. Additionally, federal regulations prohibit health plans from contracting with any GSA-debarred individuals or entities as a condition to maintaining active enrollment status. CMS also requires managed care plans to screen: (1) prior to hiring or contracting any new employee, temporary employee, volunteer, consultant, governing body member, or First Tier, Downstream or Related Entity (FDR); and (2) on a monthly basis thereafter.

Jillian Bower is an expert on this subject. Bower’s firm performs sanction screening services for health care clients. She explains, “difficulties for health care providers and plans in screening against SAM is not entirely the GSA’s fault, as GSA never designed its system to be used by entities other than federal government agencies for the purposes of selecting qualified contractors. To further complicate matters, SAM includes two types of debarments: statutory debarments, which are often mandatory; and administrative debarments, which are discretionary for government agency contracting officials. There is no information on the level of discretionary authority a non-government party would have regarding debarment issues. Furthermore, it is important to remember that according to the OIG’s position on GSA debarment screening, the OIG will take action only on confirmed LEIE ‘hits,’ and has no interest or authority to impose Civil Monetary Penalties on the employment of a debarred person.”

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Best Practices and Tips to Reduce the Burden of Resolving GSA Hits

  1. Reduce the screening burden by filtering out all vendors and contractors that do not provide medically related services and products, and establish a policy to sanction screen those that do. Such filtering will reduce the GSA screening by up to 90%. There is little reason to screen your local paper vendor, florist, newspaper delivery, etc.
  1. Submit only full names, as submitting partial or misspelled names will limit your organization’s ability to screen accurately.
  1. Implement a policy that requires all contractors, vendors, and others engaged by the organization to attest that they have never been the subject of adverse action by a government enforcement agency, including any debarment or exclusion actions. If such an entity has been the subject of an adverse action, require it to explain the situation.
  1. Ensure that your organization has the key identifiers that the GSA uses, including the Dun & Bradstreet Number, Social Security Number, and/or Tax Identification Number.
  1. Consider outsourcing the entire screening process to a professional vendor service that will screen and resolve all hits for you. If you opt to do this, ensure that the service provides a certified report of results that includes a description of the process it used to resolve any potential “hits.”
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