Understanding best practices for Consortium/Third-Party Administrators (C/TPA) is a crucial step in selecting and working with a drug and alcohol testing service provider.
C/TPAs play an essential role in the implementation of many corporate drug testing and alcohol testing programs. They manage all or part of an employer's program, maintain records and offer a variety of other related services agreed to by both parties, including subcontracting with specialized service providers as needed. Whether the C/TPA manages all or just a portion of the program, its main focus is to help keep the employer compliant with Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations and to alleviate both the effort and cost of establishing an in-house department responsible for the same.
While the number of C/TPA agents marketing suites of customized services to meet the particular needs of their clients continues to grow, selecting the right service provider for your organization has become increasingly more competitive and complicated. Before choosing your C/TPA, it is important to know how current state and federal regulations impact the work you do. Although each company (yours included) is unique and will have its own needs, a brief internal analysis will provide some foundational information to inform your future discussions with potential C/TPA service providers.
Questions To Consider In Discussions With Potential C/TPA Service Providers
- Does your company operate in one or multiple states?
- Do you have both non-DOT and DOT employees? (Learn more in Guidelines for Employers With Both DOT And Non-DOT Employees).
- Is there a Drug-Free Workplace program requirement in your state?
- Do you have internal resources such as a program manager or safety committee already in place to work with the C/TPA?
Once you have an understanding of how your operations may affect the services you require from a C/TPA, the next step is to research C/TPA best practices as they relate to your company. A review of C/TPA best practices will make your decision easier when selecting a drug and alcohol testing program that is the best fit for your organization. This review should be done as part of your preparation process and used as a part of the formal service provider interview. Details from the interview can be used to prepare specifics for the final contract.
Here are some examples of best practices that should be discussed with potential C/TPA services providers and used as part of a regular review cycle for those already under contract:
5 Essential C/TPA Best Practices To Discuss
Your C/TPA is connected
- Does your C/TPA have solid working relationships with laboratories and services certified by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)?
- Is the C/TPA a member of national drug and alcohol testing organizations?
- Is testing available throughout your area of operation, either statewide or nationally?
Drug testing procedures match your drug testing policies
- Does their short and long-term schedule align with the work that you do?
- Do their staff meet DOT qualifications? Do they have opportunities for ongoing professional development? Does their pricing schedule fit with your budget?
- Does the C/TPA submit both negative and positive blind performance test specimens to be tested for dilution and adulteration?
- Are all DOT results reviewed by a Medical Review Officer (MRO)?
- Are forms and records available electronically? (Learn more in How Does eCCF Affect Workplace DOT Drug and Alcohol Testing?). Are records easily tracked down when needed?
- Can the services provided be customized to suit your needs?
Policy development assistance is available
- Does your C/TPA provide sample policies for review?
- Are they experts on federal and state regulations?
- Do they offer consultation services and guidance in complying with state and federal drug/alcohol testing laws?
DOT and Non-DOT supervisor training is available
- Does the C/TPA have certified trainers on staff?
- Do they offer guidance and advice in complying with state and federal laws?
Audit assistance is part of the service package
- Can they assist your company through the audit process?
- Are they able to conduct a mock audit prior to the real thing?
- Has their previous work passed DOT inspections and audits?
The Next Steps After Review And Selection
Once you have selected a C/TPA, your next step is to set-up the contract or service agreement. Make sure that the roles and responsibilities of all involved parties are clearly outlined. No matter what you have in the contract, remember that the employer is ultimately responsible for compliance with DOT-regulated drug and alcohol testing regulations. Selecting the right service agent is of paramount importance to your organization. The wrong choice can lead to both administrative and operational difficulties that could have devastating consequences. Discussing best practices on a regular basis with both your C/TPA program agent and internal staff will keep the importance drug and alcohol testing top of mind and help to build an effective, collaborative environment for your program.