Use Caution in USMLE Step Exam Preparation

CTH Blog LabelBy Catherine T. Hollis, J.D., The Health Law Firm and George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Bulletin of Information outlines several examples of conduct that is deemed to be irregular behavior.  On February 27, 2014, the USMLE posted an Announcement listing the types of alleged irregular behavior recently reviewed by the Committee for Individualized Review (CIR).  Some of the cases reviewed involved individuals who were accused of soliciting unauthorized access to examination materials or communicating about specific test items, cases, or answers with other examinees.  This particular type of irregular behavior seems to be increasingly alleged against individuals who have participated in online forum discussions requesting assistance with examination preparation.

Click here to read the entire February 27, 2014, USMLE Announcement.

Do Not Seek Specific Examination Materials or Attempt to Communicate With Other Examinees.

The USMLE is taking a hard line stance on enforcing its irregular behavior policies concerning soliciting test materials and communicating about specific test items.  We have recently seen a number of individuals accused of engaging in irregular behavior because of posts on forum websites that appear to be solicitations for specific examination materials or cases.  Some examples of these posts include:

-    Joining in requests from others for information on recent test questions after another individual’s post requesting Step 2 Clinical Skills  (CS) cases;
-    Requesting that others provide information about some of the cases at a specific test center;
-    Suggesting approaching examinees as they leave the exam center to ask about the exam; and
-    Requesting a list of CS cases for a specific test center.

Know the Rules.

All USMLE applicants are required to be familiar with the USMLE’s Bulletin of Information.  By signing a Step Exam application, an applicant is certifying that he or she has read and is familiar with all information contained in the Bulletin. You will still be held responsible for this whether you read it or not.

According to the Bulletin, irregular behavior includes any action that subverts or attempts to subvert the examination process.  As noted above, the Bulletin contains a non-exhaustive list of examples of conduct that is deemed to be irregular behavior.

Click here to read our previous blog about irregular behavior.

Irregular Behavior Has Serious Potential Consequences.

If an examinee is found to have engaged in irregular behavior, the CIR will impose sanctions.  These sanctions can include an annotation on an individual’s USMLE transcript, invalidation of scores, a report to the Federation of State Medical Boards, and even a bar from taking future USMLE examinations.

Appropriate Test Preparation.

Examinees can adequately prepare for the USMLE Step exams without the need to seek further assistance that might cross the line into irregular behavior.  On April 4, 2014, the USMLE posted an Announcement on its website with information about materials available from the USMLE, the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) and third parties. From the USMLE website, examinees can access free orientation and practice materials, including:

-    Informational materials on the overall USMLE program and content descriptions for each of the USMLE examinations;
-    Tutorials that illustrate the USMLE Step 1, Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK), Step 3 multiple-choice software and the Step 3 computer-based case simulation (CCS) Primum® software;
-    Sample multiple-choice test questions with answer keys for each Step exam;
-    Sample Step 3 CCS cases with feedback; and
-    Orientation materials for Step 2 CS.

Examinees may also, for a fee, take advantage of the self-assessment services offered by the NBME.  These services are designed to familiarize examinees with USMLE questions and provide feedback on the examinee’s areas of strength and weakness.

There are also a variety of commercial test preparation materials and courses that claim to prepare examinees for USMLE Step exams.  These courses are not affiliated with or sanctioned by the USMLE program, but may be helpful to you.

Click here to read the entire April 4, 2014, USMLE Announcement.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to medical students, residents, interns and fellows in academic disputes, graduate medical education (GME) hearings, contract negotiations, license applications, board certification applications and hearings, credential hearings, and civil and administrative litigations.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

Have you ever come across these online forums? Have you ever posted in these forums? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

“USMLE Takes Action Against Individuals Found to Have Engaged in Irregular Behavior.” USMLE. (February 27, 2014). From: http://www.usmle.org/announcements/?ContentId=130

“Use Caution in Selecting Review Courses.” USMLE. (April 4, 2014). From: http://www.usmle.org/announcements/?ContentId=67

“USMLE 2014 Bulletin of Information.” USMLE. (2013). From: http://www.usmle.org/pdfs/bulletin/2014bulletin.pdf

About the Authors:  Catherine T. Hollis is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Governor Requests the Agency for Health Care Administration to Inspect Florida’s VA Hospitals

8 Indest-2008-5By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

In response to recent deaths at Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals throughout Florida and the rest of the nation, on April 1, 2014, Governor Rick Scott wrote a letter to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) requesting the agency begin inspecting VA hospitals in the Sunshine Health Network. This network under investigation includes Florida, south Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. So far the VA has denied AHCA any permission to inspect its hospitals, and it is unclear whether the federal government will allow such inspections moving forward.

To see a copy of the Governor’s letter to the AHCA, click here.

Governor Scott Wants Answers in Patient Death Cases.

According to The Tampa Bay Tribune, Governor Scott wants answers in regard to the deaths of five patients in the VA region serving Florida. It was reported in March 2014, that five cancer patients died and nine others sustained injuries because of delays in diagnosis or treatment. The Tampa Bay Tribune report states that the delays were less than a year but more than 90 days. So far, VA officials have not said at which hospitals the deaths occurred, which concerns Governor Scott. Through AHCA’s investigation he hopes to determine where the deaths took place, how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is going to ensure the quality of care for veterans improves, and how the federal government can increase transparency on the quality of care in VA hospitals.

Click here to read the entire article from The Tampa Bay Tribune.

AHCA Agents Booted from One Florida VA Hospital.

Two days after Governor Scott’s letter was sent to AHCA, two agency inspectors were allegedly denied access to records at the VA Medical Center in Riviera Beach, Florida, according to the Palm Beach Post. The inspectors were told an official response would be provided from the VA’s national office in Washington, D.C. One VA spokeswoman stated that the VA will cooperate with AHCA, but could not do so on the specific day of AHCA’s inspection.

To read the entire article from the Palm Beach Post, click here.

It is not yet known how the VA will work with AHCA in regards to inspections. Check our blog regularly for updates.

Florida’s Lack of Legal Authority and Federal Supremacy.

Governor Scott apparently has forgotten that the state lacks authority over federal facilities and federal agencies. The federal government and its laws and regulations are superior to and take precedence over any state laws, regulations or authorities. This is a key principle of our constitutional government in the United States of America.

I am sensitive to such issues having personally lived through times when state governors “stood up to” the federal government while trying to keep public schools from being desegregated during the Civil Rights Era. The “states rightists” lost that battle like Governor Scott is likely to lose this battle.

As a lawyer friend of mine used to say in reference to similar conflicts between state and federal authorities, “I seem to recall that we fought a war about this issue some time in the past and the South lost.”

I doubt that Governor Scott is ignorant of the law. I also doubt that the VA or any other federal agency is likely to give up its autonomy to kowtow state officials. I believe it is most likely that Governor Scott is merely grand standing to make a show that may appeal to state right advocates and veterans as part of his campaign for reelection. But, of course, this is just my personal opinion.

Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Veterans Administration (VA) Physician Representation and Military Physician Representation.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm have represented physicians, psychologists, nurse practitioners, nurse and other health professionals working in Veterans Administration medical centers and clinics throughout the United States. Representation has included personnel and employment issues, disciplinary action, investigations, peer review investigations, clinical privileges actions, fair hearings, National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) actions and appeals.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think of Governor Scott’s request for answers? Why do you think the AHCA agents were denied access? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Scott, Rick. Letter from Governor Rick Scott to Ms. Elizabeth Dudek at the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. (April 1, 2014). From: http://www.flgov.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/SKMBT_C35314040107040.pdf

Altman, Howard. “Gov. Scott Asks Answer in VA Hospital Deaths.” The Tampa Bay Tribune. (April 1, 2014). From: http://tbo.com/list/military-news/gov-scott-wants-inspection-of-federal-hospitals-20140401/

Bennett, George. “Turf War Escalates as 2 Florida Health Care Inspectors ‘Escorted Out’ of VA Hospital, Official Says.” Palm Beach Post. (April 3, 2014). From: http://www.postonpolitics.com/2014/04/turf-war-escalates-as-2-florida-health-care-inspectors-escorted-out-of-va-hospital-official-says/

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Duke University Health System Pays $1 Million to Settle Allegations of False Claims in Whistleblower Lawsuit

1 Indest-2008-1By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On March 21, 2014, Duke University Health System in Raleigh, North Carolina, settled a whistleblower/qui tam lawsuit, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The lawsuit, filed in 2012, stated that the three-hospital academic medical center is alleged to have fraudulently inflated its Medicare bills by unbundling a number of cardiac services and billing for physician assistants’ (PAs) time illegally. Duke University Health System agreed to pay $1 million to resolve these allegations.

Click here to read the press release from the DOJ.

Duke University Health System Accused of Submitting False Claims to Federal Health Care Programs.

According to the complaint, the lawsuit was originally filed by a former health care bill coder and quality-control auditor for Duke’s revenue-cycle subsidiary, Duke Patient Revenue Management Organization. The former employee accused Duke University Health System of allegedly making false claims to Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE by billing the government for services provided by PAs during coronary artery bypass surgeries when the PAs were acting as surgical assistants, which is not allowed. The whistleblower also alleged the medical center increased billing by unbundling claims when the unbundling was not appropriate. These unbundled claims were associated with cardiac and anesthesia services, according to the complaint.

To read the whistleblower’s complaint filed in December of 2012, click here.

According to the DOJ, the claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

Whistleblowers Who Report Fraud and False Claims Against the Government Are Usually Employees.

Doctors, nurses or staff employees working for hospitals, nursing homes, medical groups, home health agencies or others, often become aware of questionable activities. They are sometimes even asked to participate in it. In many cases the activity may amount to health care fraud.

It does not matter who you are. You may even be actively involved in the wrongdoing. This does not disqualify you from reporting the false claims activity or receiving a reward for doing so. In order to encourage employees with knowledge of fraudulent activity to come forward, the government will usually not seek to prosecute or punish that person in any way.

Normally the government will want to see some actual documentation of the claims submitted by the hospital or other institution. Usually physicians, nurses or staff employees have access to such documentation. Whistleblowers are urged to come forward as soon as possible. In many circumstances, documentation that shows the fraud “disappears” or cannot be located once it is known that a company is under investigation.

Of course, the larger the amount of money the government has been defrauded the more likely it will be that the government will be interested in pursuing the case and the larger the reward the whistleblower will receive if there is a recovery.

To read more on whistleblower cases, read my previous blogs. Click here for part one, and click here for part two.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Qui Tam or Whistleblower Cases.

Attorneys with The Health Law Firm also represent health care professionals and health facilities in qui tam or whistleblower cases both in defending such claims and in bringing such claims. We have developed relationships with recognized experts in health care accounting, health care financing, utilization review, medical review, filling, coding, and other services that assist us in such matters. We have represented doctors, nurses and others as relators in bringing qui tam or whistleblower cases, as well.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think of this settlement? Do you think whistleblower lawsuits are becoming more common? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Carlson, Joe. “Duke Pays $1 Million to Settle Whistle-Blower Case.” Modern Healthcare. (March 25, 2014). From: http://bit.ly/1g3W7yw

Department of Justice. “Duke University Health System, Inc. Agrees to Pay $1 Million For Alleged False Claims Submitted to Federal Health Care Programs.” Department of Justice. (March 21, 2014). From: http://www.justice.gov/usao/nce/press/2014/2014-mar-21.html

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Florida Supreme Court Overturns Medical Malpractice Caps

6 Indest-2008-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Florida’s Supreme Court ruled 5-to-2 in favor of invalidating medical malpractice caps on non-economic damages. The initial legislation was put into place in 2003 by the Florida Legislature due to an alleged medical malpractice crisis. The caps limited payments to patients for non-economic damages at $500,000 in most malpractice cases and $1 million in cases involving deaths. However, on March 13, 2014, the Supreme Court concluded that the cap on wrongful death non-economic damages violates the state Constitution’s equal protection clause.

This decision by Florida’s highest court makes Florida the seventh state to make such a ruling that such limitations are unconstitutional. There are 35 states that currently have some type of cap on medical malpractice awards.

This decision stirs up harsh criticism from doctors, and praise from trial attorneys.

History of the Caps on Medical Malpractice Lawsuits.

The damages caps were initiated in 2003 by former Governor Jeb Bush, backed by doctors, hospitals and insurance companies. Supporters argued that reforms were needed to curb the outbreak of medical malpractice costs. The caps were also initiated in an effort to lower the cost of malpractice insurance rates and to keep doctors from moving out of the state. According to Health News Florida with the caps, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits fell, which was interpreted as a sign that the caps discouraged trivial lawsuits. To read the entire article from Health News Florida, click here.

Harsh Words from Florida Medical Association.

The Florida Medical Association (FMA) President Alan Harmon, M.D., wasted no time in releasing a statement of discontent. In a press release Dr. Harmon stated, “The FMA is extremely disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision. This decision imperils our considerable efforts to make Florida the best state in the nation for physicians to practice medicine and for patients to receive care.”

Dr. Harmon mentions that without caps to help regulate out-of-control litigation, many physicians may move out of the state, and few out-of-state physicians will look to locate to Florida.

To read the full press release from Dr. Harmon, click here.

What This Means for Health Care Professionals.

Now that medical malpractice caps are gone, trial lawyers will be refocusing on lawsuits. Health care professionals need to carefully evaluate each patient before treatment begins, even consulting with specialists when necessary. Detailed documentation is also important. Make sure everything is properly charted in the patient’s medical record. As a health care professional, its important to have an open line of communication with your patient, so that he or she knows and understands his or her medical treatment.

Get Professional Liability Insurance Now.

It is now more important than ever to have good professional liability insurance. The truth of the matter is that all health care professionals should protect themselves by obtaining a personal professional liability insurance policy. A good policy will provide medical malpractice and, very importantly, licensure protection coverage. The cost on these policies varies, but it is generally quite affordable, often costing little more that $10 to $15 a month. If you do not already have it, call Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO), Lloyd’s of London, CPH & Associates Insurance, or another insurance company to discuss obtaining professional liability insurance.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

Our firm regularly represents physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, massage therapists, mental health counselors, registered nurses (RNs), assisted living facilities (ALFs), home health agencies (HHAs), nurse practitioners, lab technicians, occupational therapists, physical therapists (PTs), social workers, physician assistants, psychologists and other health professionals in many different legal matters.
Services we provide include representation before your professional board in Department of Health investigations, in administrative hearings, in civil litigation, in defense of malpractice claims, in professional licensing matters, in defense of allegations concerning HIPAA privacy violations and medical record breaches, in Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) actions, and in many other matters.

In cases in which the health care professional has professional liability insurance or general liability insurance which provides coverage for such matters, we will seek to obtain coverage by your insurance company and will attempt to have your legal fees and expenses covered by your insurance company. If allowed, we will agree to take an assignment of your insurance policy proceeds in order to be able to submit our bills directly to your insurance company.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

As a health care provider, how do you feel about the malpractice caps being thrown out? Will it make you think twice about taking certain cases or treating certain patients? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Gentry, Carol. “FL Malpractice Caps Thrown Out.” Health News Florida. (March 14, 2014). From: http://health.wusf.usf.edu/post/fl-malpractice-caps-thrown-out

Klas, Mary Ellen. “Florida Supreme Court Tosses Out Medical Malpractice Cap on Damages.” Tampa Bay Times. (March 13, 2014). From: http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/florida-supreme-court-tosses-out-medical-malpractice-cap-on-damages/2170030

VanSickle, Erin. “Supreme Court Invalidates Medical Liability Caps.” Florida Medical Association. (March 13, 2014). From: http://www.flmedical.org/Supreme_Court_invalidates_caps.aspx

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

 

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Data Breach at Colorado Hospital Highlights IT Security Risks

Lance Leider headshotBy Lance O. Leider, J.D., The Health Law Firm

A small rural hospital in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, has identified a virus on its computer network that had captured and stored screen shots of protected health information in a hidden file system. The hidden folder was created on Sept. 23, 2013, but was not discovered until Jan. 23, 2014. The breach identified at least 5,400 individual patients whose information was compromised.

According to Healthcare IT News, among the stolen data was patient names, addresses, dates of birth, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, credit card information, and admission and discharge dates.

Hospital officials have been unable to determine how the virus was loaded onto the hospital network, according to Healthcare IT News. Consequently, officials believe that there is “very high” probability that the data had been accessed by an outside entity.

To read the entire article from Healthcare IT News, click here.

Take Steps to Secure Your Network.

Breaches of this kind are not solely confined to hospitals and large providers. In fact, it may be that this hospital was targeted because it was a smaller provider in a rural area with easier access to its systems.

Viruses like the one in question could be loaded onto systems as a result of an outside attack (think hackers) or through inside means like a flash drive or deliberately opening an infected e-mail.

It is imperative that a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) covered entity have an effective cyber security plan. Make sure that you have up-to-date anti-virus software and that your computers are secure from access by unauthorized personnel like cleaning crews or patients and their families. Also, meet with your IT professional to discuss security measures you can put in place such as restricting access and accessibility to certain files or the ability to download programs and applications to essential staff only.

Hacked data represents a growing share of HIPAA breaches. It is imperative that covered entities ensure their compliance with HIPAA to avoid any sanctions by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). To date, the OCR has collected in excess of $18 million in fines and penalties for failures to secure patient information.

Get a Risk Assessment.

A HIPAA Risk Assessment is a thorough review and analysis of areas where you may have risk of violating the HIPAA laws. Federal regulations require that covered entities have this assessment done. When the OCR auditor comes to visit your office to check for HIPAA compliance, they will ask for your Risk Assessment. Do you have one? Does your staff know who your HIPAA compliance officer is? To learn more on HIPAA risk assessments, click here.

Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Defending HIPAA Complaints and Violations.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other health care providers and institutions in investigating and defending alleged HIPAA complaints and violations and in preparing Corrective Action Plans (CAPs).

For more information about HIPAA violations, electronic health records or corrective action plans (CAPs), please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Comments?

Do you think it is likely that this hospital was targeted because it was a smaller provider in a rural area? Do you think a HIPAA risk assessment could have helped this practice avoid a breach? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Harvey, Nelson. “Hospital Database Hacked, Patient Info Vulnerable.” Aspen Daily News. (March 15, 2014). From: http://www.aspendailynews.com/section/home/161578

McCann, Erin. “Small-Town Hospital Gets Hacked.” Healthcare IT News. (March 17, 2014). From: http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/small-town-hospital-gets-hacked

About the Author: Lance O. Leider is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Verifying Patients’ Affordable Care Act Exchange Insurance is Putting Doctors’ Office Employees Through the Ringer

10 Indest-2008-7By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The ultimate goal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is to provide millions of previously uninsured Americans with access to health care. Open enrollment does not end until March 31, 2014; however, practices are already seeing an influx of patients who have bought insurance through the exchanges. With that, some offices are reporting a new challenge being presented in doctors’ offices.

In a National Public Radio (NPR) article, some doctors’ office employees report having to call insurance companies to verify that each exchange patient is paid up. These calls are reportedly taking up to an hour or more, which costs the practice both time and resources.

Click here to read the entire NPR article.

Doctors’ Offices Used to Check Insurance Online.

In the past, practices were able to verify patients’ insurance quickly through online verification systems. However, for exchange patients, some doctors’ offices are choosing to call insurance companies to make sure the patient has paid the premium. It if is not paid, the insurance company can refuse to pay the doctor for the visit, or recoup payments already made.

Financial Risk Part of the 90-Day Grace Period Included in the ACA.

Individuals that purchased subsidized coverage through the exchanges are granted a 90-day grace period before their coverage is cancelled for nonpayment. The insurance plan is required to pay any claims incurred during the first 30 days of the grace period. However, for the next 60 days, nothing is guaranteed. If a patient visits the doctor, the insurer can “pend” the claim and wait to pay until the patient pays the premium. At the end of the 90 days, the insurer can cancel the coverage and refuse to pay the pended claims or recoup payments already made. To read a previous blog on this topic, click here.

Risk Falls on Health Care Professionals and Providers.

The rule imposes a significant risk for uncompensated care on health care providers. The rule does require insurers to tell health care providers when patients are behind on their premium payments, but the rule does not specify how the health plan will provide that notice to the providers. This is why some practices are opting to get in front of the insurance companies by calling and verifying everything is in order before proceeding with the visit. However since the calls are taking so long, this means longer hours, more overtime and higher overhead expenses.

The Office Has Options.

If the premium is not paid, the office is at risk to not receive reimbursements. Instead of taking that risk, the office can provide patients with other options. The patient could reschedule the appointment for a later date. Or the patient could pay the office in cash and then apply to the insurer for reimbursements. Either way, the practice will receive its proper payment.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in the Representation of Health Professionals and Providers.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, CRNAs, pain management doctors, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists and other health providers in insurance company or other third party payor reimbursements.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

Has your practice been calling insurance companies to verify patients have paid their premiums? As a health care professional or provider, are you worried you don’t have adequate financial protection? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Source:

Gold, Jenny. “Doctors’ Offices Get Put On Hold Trying to Find Out Who’s Insured.” National Public Radio. (February 25, 2014). From: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/02/25/282115303/doctors-offices-get-put-on-hold-trying-to-find-out-whos-insured

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

If Denial of Licensure is Disciplinary in Nature, Then Agency Must Prove Case by “Clear and Convincing Evidence”

The foregoing case summary was prepared by Mary F. Smallwood, Esquire, of The Administrative Law Section of The Florida Bar.

Davis Family Day Care Home (“Davis”) was issued a license as a family day care home in 2007. Davis applied annually for renewal of that license. In 2011, Davis applied for renewal of its license and also applied for a license as a large family child care home.

The Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) proposed to deny both the renewal application and the application for licensure as a large family child care home. Davis sought an administrative hearing on both denials. After an administrative hearing, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) issued a recommended order recommending issuance of the renewal on a probationary basis and issuance of the large family child care home application on a provisional basis. The ALJ held that the burden of proof for the license denial was clear and convincing evidence. DCF rejected that conclusion, and provided a substituted conclusion of law that the burden of proof was by competent substantial evidence. DCF adopted the ALJ’s recommendation to renew the family day care home on a probationary basis, but denied the application for a large family child care home license.

On appeal, the court reversed and remanded. It held that DCF had misused the appellate “competent substantial evidence” standard of review as the burden of proof.

With respect to the appropriate burden on DCF, the court held that DCF must establish by clear and convincing evidence that the license should be denied, and not by a preponderance of the evidence. The court opined that the denial of the license for a large family child care home was essentially a disciplinary action since it was predicated on violations allegedly committed under the day care home license. The statute relied on by DCF authorized imposition of “disciplinary sanctions,” including denial or revocation of a license, for violations of the licensing laws. The court noted that DCF itself had acknowledged the disciplinary nature of its action, referring to its initial decision letter as an “administrative complaint.”

While recognizing that the court in Department of Banking and Finance v. Osborne Stern & Co., 670 So. 2d 932 (Fla. 2006), had applied the preponderance of the evidence burden of proof (instead of clear and convincing evidence) to license application proceedings, the court noted that section 120.57(1), Fla. Stat., had been amended since the Osborne decision. Section 120.57(1)(j), Fla. Stat., now provides that the preponderance of the evidence standard applies except in penal or disciplinary actions. In this case, the statute made clear that DCF was taking disciplinary action.

Source:

Davis Family Day Care v. Department of Children and Family Servs., 117 So. 3d 464 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013) (Opinion filed July 17, 2013).

About the Author: The foregoing case summary was prepared by Mary F. Smallwood, Esquire, of The Administrative Law Section of The Florida Bar. It originally appeared in the Administrative Law Section newsletter, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Dec. 2013).