Category Archives: Health Care Industry

The health care industry includes health care providers (hospitals, nursing homes, pain management clinics, doctor’s offices, surgical centers, rehab facilities, etc.) and health care professionals (physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, medical students, medical interns, hospital administrators, etc.). These health care providers and health care professionals are often the subject of legal issues.

Cyber Attack at Community Health Systems Affects 4.5 Million Patients-Could This be a New Trend?

Patricia's Photos 013By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar  in Health Law

On August 18, 2014, Community Health Systems, a Tennessee-based hospital chain that has 206 hospitals in 29 states, announced that its computer system was hacked. According to a number of news reports, an outside group of hackers, originating in China, used highly sophisticated malware and technology to steal 4.5 million patients’ non-medical data. The hackers were able to obtain patients’ names, Social Security numbers, addresses, birth dates, and telephone numbers.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, in Florida, St. Cloud Surgical Associates, St. Cloud Medical Group, and Urology Associates of St. Cloud were among the practices where medical data was stolen. The article did not mention how many patients in Florida were affected. Click here to read the story from the Orlando Sentinel.

How Community Health Systems will Handle Being Hacked.

According to The New York Times, Community Health Systems believes the attacks happened from April to June 2014. The company will be notifying affected patients and agencies under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The hospital system is now working with a security company to investigate the incident and help prevent future attacks. Federal law enforcement agents are also investigating the incident. Click here to read the entire article from The New York Times.

Because this breach affected more than 500 individuals, it will soon be posted on the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Wall of Shame. The law requires that any breach involving 500 or more individuals be publicly posted. To learn more on the Wall of Shame, click here for my previous blog.

Protect Your Practice As Best You Can From Cyber Attacks.

Cyber hacking in the medical community appears to be a crime of opportunity. Quickly there are becoming two types of companies: those that have been hacked and those that will be hacked.

While there is no way to guarantee protection from extrusion and external sources, there are steps that can be taken. For medical practices, many of these are required as part of a HIPAA risk assessment. Some areas to focus on include:

-    Background checks;
–    Comprehensive policies and procedures;
–    Vigilance when it comes to monitoring and data-leakage prevention tools; and
–    Employee education.

Medical practices are going to become bigger targets as the health care industry transitions to electronic health records. In addition, the hacking community is figuring out it is easier to hack a hospital or private practice, than it is a bank and you get the same information. To learn more on HIPAA risk assessments, click here.

Comments?

How do you protect your medical practice from hackers? Do you have regular risk assessments? Why or why not? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

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 http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Sources:

Perlroth, Nicole. “Hack of Community Health Systems Affects 4.5 Million Patients.” The New York Times. (August 18, 2014). From: http://nyti.ms/1pFpujC

Kutscher, Beth. “Chinese Hackers Hit Community Health Systems; Other Vulnerable.” Modern Healthcare. (August 18, 2014). From: http://bit.ly/1BxsLqH

Jacobson, Susan. “St. Cloud Medical Patients’ Information Among Millions Stolen in Cyber Attack.” (August 18, 2014). From: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/os-hospital-data-breach-st-cloud-20140818,0,3157319.story

Rose, Rachel. “Protecting Your Medical Practices From Cyber Threats.” Physicians Practice. (July 17, 2014). From: http://www.physicianspractice.com/blog/protecting-your-medical-practice-cyberthreats

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.

Sexual Misconduct by Rogue Employees Can Cost Big Money: Your Responsibility as an Employer

2 Indest-2009-1By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Johns Hopkins Health System agreed to shell out $190 million to more than 7,000 women and girls, in one of the largest settlements ever in the United States involving sexual misconduct by a physician.

A gynecologist, practicing in a Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Hospital, one of the nation’s most prestigious medical institutions, was accused of using a tiny camera to secretly take videos and pictures of his patients. The doctor worked at the hospital for 25 years, but was fired after admitting to the misconduct and surrendering his recording devices to authorities.

This is a chilling example of how employers can be held responsible for “rogue” employees clearly not working under the consent of the employer. In general, employers have a responsibility to properly supervise their employees’ actions. As in this case, failure to do so can cost millions.

Background of the Case.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a co-worker tipped off Johns Hopkins officials that the gynecologist was wearing a pen around his neck that looked like a camera. In February 2013, an investigation revealed that the gynecologist secretly used the device in question to photograph and videotape thousands of women and girls during pelvic exams. The investigation found that the doctor’s camera captured 1,200 videos and 140 images of his patients, that were then stored on his computer. The doctor was fired in February 2013, and committed suicide days later.

Click here to read the entire article from the Wall Street Journal.

“Rogue” Employee.

In this case, Johns Hopkins states that insurance will cover the entire $190 million settlement. The preliminary agreement is awaiting final approval from a judge. In a statement, Johns Hopkins’ attorney said that the hospital was unaware of the doctor’s conduct, and that he had become a “rogue” employee. The hospital sent out letters of apology to the gynecologist’s patient list, calling the incident a “breach of trust.”

Click here to read all of the statements from Johns Hopkins Medicine in regard to this incident.

Employer’s Responsibility.

The lawsuit against Johns Hopkins alleged that the hospital failed to properly supervise the doctor and should have known of his alleged misconduct.

This situation brings up an interesting point, even though the employee was acting on his own accord, the health system would still likely have been held liable if the case was not settled.

Employers are generally “vacariously liable” for their employees’ actions. The basic idea of vicarious liability or the doctrine of respondeat superior is that an employer is held responsible for the negligent acts of its employee that cause injuries to a third party, provided that such acts were committed during the course of and within the scope of the employment.

To establish that the employee’s conduct was within the scope of employment:

1. The conduct must have occurred substantially within the time and space limits authorized by the employment;
2. The employee must have been motivated, at least partially, by a purpose to serve the employer; and
3. The act must have been of a kind that the employee was hired to perform.

In certain circumstances, including the example of the gynecologist, an employer’s vicarious liability can extend to intentional or even criminal acts committed by the employee.

Vicarious liability is a powerful concept and, as evident by the Johns Hopkins case, can result in an employer being responsible for significant sums of money. Employers should institute policies which curb activities that could be injurious to others. The employer has a responsibility to monitor employees and immediately investigate any suspicious activity.

Despite the fact that Johns Hopkins acted quickly, the hospital system will still most likely be left holding a settlement sum of $190 million for actions of an employee.

Comments?

As an employer, how do you make sure your employees aren’t acting on their own or violating company policies and procedures? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Contact Health Attorneys Experienced in Health Law and Employment Law.

The Health Law Firm represents both employers and employees in the health care industry in defending allegations of sexual misconduct and other complaints from employees and patients. We represent employers in unemployment compensation hearings, in defending against EEOC (discrimination) complaints, and in defending litigation involving wage and hour disputes, as well as other types of contract or employment litigation. We also can investigate such allegations and attempt to negotiate settlements where warranted. Our attorneys represent individuals and institutions in litigation, civil or administrative, state or federal.

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

Sources:

Linderman, Juliet. “Hopkins Pays $190M in Pelvis Exam Pix Settlement.” Associated Press. (July 22, 2014). From: http://apne.ws/UquXOI

Levitz, Jennifer. “Johns Hopkins Agrees to $190 Million Exam-Photos Settlement.” Wall Street Journal. (July 21, 2014). From: http://online.wsj.com/articles/johns-hopkins-hospital-agrees-to-190-million-exam-photos-settlement-1405961572

Johns Hopkins Hospital. “Statement from Johns Hopkins Medicine on the recent news surrounding Nikita Levy, M.D.” Hopkins Medicine. (July 21, 2014). From: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/Nikita_Levy.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.

Why Have You Received a Denial on Your Medicare Enrollment Application?

GFI Blog LabelBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law and Christopher E. Brown, J.D., The Health Law Firm

Did you receive a denial on your Medicare enrollment application and can’t figure out why? You may be surprised to find out that even the smallest punctuation error, such as a missing comma or period, could be the reason Medicare rejected your application.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will deny Medicare applications of physicians, medical groups, home health agencies (HHAs), pharmacies and durable medical equipment (DME) suppliers because the name on file with the National Plan & Provider Enumeration System (NPPES) is not the same legal business name as reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The use of punctuation marks and abbreviations in your name with NPPES could produce a no match in the CMS records. It is imperative when filling out the Medicare enrollment forms that you use the exact legal business name on file with the IRS.

The easiest way for a health care provider or facility to apply for enrollment or make changes to enrollment information is to use the internet-based Provider Enrollment Chain and Ownership System (PECOS). Click here to utilize PECOS.

Other Reasons Why a Medicare Enrollment Application can be Denied.

Here are some more situations that can cause a provider’s application to be denied:

1. The form CMS-855 or PECOS certification statement is unsigned; is undated; contains a copied or stamped signature; or for the paper form CMS-855I and form CMS-855O submissions, someone other than the physician or non-physician practitioner signed the form.
2. The submitted paper application is an outdated version.
3. The applicant failed to submit all of the forms needed to process a reassignment package within 15 calendar days of receipt.
4. The form CMS-855 was completed in pencil.
5. The wrong application was submitted (for example: a form CMS-855B was submitted for Part A enrollment).
6. If a web-generated application is submitted, it does not appear to have been downloaded from the CMS website.
7. The health care provider sent in an application or PECOS certification statement via fax or e-mail when he/she was not otherwise permitted to do so.
8. The health care provider failed to submit an application fee (if applicable to the situation).

Update All of Your Information with Medicare.

If you are already a Medicare provider, I urge you to personally go into the PECOS and NPPES and print out a copy of the existing information to check it.

If anything is incorrect, including an incorrect or incomplete name for your medical group, corporation or business, immediately fix this. Everything should be consistent. All of your state licenses and corporation/company information on file with your Secretary of State should also contain the same information as well.

Incorrect Information Could Lead to the Termination of Your Medicare Provider Number.

The consequences of not checking your information on file are severe, and can include termination of your Medicare provider number and billing privileges.

The effect of this termination includes:

- You are prohibited from reapplying to Medicare for at least two years.
– You may have to pay back any money received from the Medicare program since the effective date of the termination (often many months prior to the notification letter).
– Other auditing agents may be notified such as the Medicare Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPICs) and the state Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU).
– You may no longer contract with Medicare or anyone who does.
– You may and probably will be terminated from the approved provider panels of health insurance companies with which you are currently contracted.
– You may and probably will be terminated from skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) and HHAs with which you have contracts.
– You may and probably will have your clinical privileges terminated by hospitals or ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs).

To read our recommendations on what to do if your Medicare provider number is terminated, click here to read my previous blog.

Comments?

Did you know that even the smallest punctuation errors could lead to a denial of your application for Medicare enrollment? Have you ever had an issue enrolling in the Medicare program? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Don’t Wait Too Late; Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Medicare and Medicaid Issues Now.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm routinely represent physicians, medical groups, clinics, pharmacies, durable medical equipment (DME) suppliers, home health agencies, nursing homes and other healthcare providers in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits and recovery actions. They also represent them in preparing and submitting corrective action plans (CAPs), requests for reconsideration, and appeal hearings, including Medicare administrative hearings before an administrative law judge. Attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent health providers in actions initiated by the Medicaid Fraud Control Units (MFCUs), in False Claims Act cases, in actions initiated by the state to exclude or terminate from the Medicaid Program or by the HHS OIG to exclude from the Medicare Program.

Call now at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Authors: 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.

Christopher E. Brown, J.D., 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 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.

CMS in the Hot Seat for Lax Oversight of Medicaid Managed Care Organizations

LLA Headshot smBy Lenis L. Archer, J.D., M.P.H., The Health Law Firm

For years, each state has kept an eye on its own Medicaid managed care plans, while the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is required to monitor how well each individual state is doing. However, a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report claims CMS is sleeping on the job. The report, released on June 20, 2014, stresses the need for more federal oversight of these plans.

With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Medicaid program is expected to expand significantly. Most of the new beneficiaries enrolled in managed care are covered almost entirely by federal funds. The need for federal oversight in this area is of growing importance to ensure accountability of taxpayers’ dollars.

To read the entire report from the GAO, click here.

Report Findings: MCOs Need to be Watched by the Feds.

The persistent theme of the GAO report is that CMS and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have done little to control the integrity of managed care organizations (MCOs). Federal programs have delegated managed care supervision to each individual state, but fail to provide needed guidelines and resources. CMS has not updated its MCO program guidance since 2000.

The report found neither state nor federal programs are well positioned to identify improper payments made to MCOs. Further, these programs are unable to ensure that MCOs are taking appropriate actions to identify, prevent or discourage improper payments.

For example, the report looked at state program integrity (PI) units and Medicaid Fraud Control Units (MFCU) from seven states. These anti-fraud groups admitted to primarily focusing their efforts on Medicaid fee-for-service claims. Meanwhile, claims made to MCOs have flown under their radar.

GAO Recommendations.

The GAO recommends that CMS:

- Require states to conduct audits of payments to and by MCOs;

- Update its managed care guidance program integrity practices and effective handling of MCO recoveries; and

- Provide states with additional support in overseeing MCO program integrity.

The GAO also suggests that CMS increase its oversight, especially as states expand their Medicaid programs. The GAO report recommends CMS take a bigger role in holding states accountable to ensure adequate program integrity efforts in the Medicaid managed care program. If CMS does not step up to the plate, the report predicts a growing number of federal Medicaid dollars will become vulnerable to improper payments.

The Future of MCOs.

If this report is taken seriously, be assured that audits of MCOs will become more frequent and extensive. If CMS ramps up their efforts, claims could be reviewed in detail by Medicaid integrity contractors. Now is the time to verify you are in compliance and receiving proper payments; before CMS turns the magnifying glass on you or your facility .

Comments?

What do you think of the GAO’s assessment of MCOs? Do you think CMS needs to step up and provide more oversight? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Medicaid Audits, Investigations and other Legal Proceedings.

Medicaid fraud is a serious crime and is vigorously investigated by the state MFCU, the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), the Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPICs), the FBI, and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Other state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), and other law enforcement agencies often participate. Don’t wait until it’s too late. If you are concerned about possible violations and would like a confidential consultation, contact a qualified health attorney familiar with medical billing and audits today. Often Medicaid fraud criminal charges arise out of routine Medicaid audits, probe audits, or patient complaints.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent physicians, dentists, orthodontists, medical groups, clinics, pharmacies, assisted living facilities (AFLs), home health care agencies, nursing homes, group homes and other healthcare providers in Medicaid and Medicare investigations, audits and recovery actions. To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Mullaney, Tim. “Federal Government Needs to Boost Medicaid Managed Care Oversight, GAO Says.” McKnight’s Long-Term Care & Assisted Living. (June 20, 2014). From: http://www.mcknights.com/federal-government-needs-to-boost-medicaid-managed-care-oversight-gao-says/article/356779/

Adamopoulos, Helen. “GAI Calls on CMS to Increase Medicaid Managed Care Oversight.” Becker’s Hospital Review. (June 20, 2014). From: http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/gao-calls-on-cms-to-increase-medicaid-managed-care-oversight.html

Bergal, Jenni. “Advocates Urge More Government Oversight of Medicaid Managed Care.” Kaiser Health News. (July 5, 2013). From: http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/stories/2013/july/05/medicaid-managed-care-states-quality.aspx?referrer=search

About the Author: Lenis L. Archer is as 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 © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

OIG Audit Finds Federal Database of Terminated Medicaid Providers Needs Improvement

LLA Headshot smBy Lenis L. Archer, J.D., M.P.H., The Health Law Firm

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to establish a process for sharing information about terminated Medicaid providers. The federal database, called Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program State Information Sharing System (MCSIS), is designed to prevent terminated health care providers from billing another state’s program. However, an audit by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG), released in March 2014, states the MCSIS is not working as intended.

The MCSIS is supposed to collect data from every state Medicaid program on providers that were terminated from Medicaid for cause. However, the report found that the HHS OIG is not receiving data from 17 states or the District of Columbia. It was also found that a majority of the data does not meet the ACA criteria.

To read the entire report from the HHS OIG, click here.

Specific Issues Within Database.

According to the OIG, only 27% of the 6,439 MCSIS records involve terminated Medicaid providers. The database is filled with providers who had not been terminated, but rather had died, retired, left the state or stopped working with Medicaid of their own accord. It is also reported that about one-third of the records are not related to for-cause provider terminations. A majority of the data comes from California, Pennsylvania, Illinois and New York. According to Reuters, more than half of the records submitted did not include a National Provider Identification number, which is critical to any state trying to identify a terminated provider.

Click here to read the entire article from Reuters.

Recommendations to Improve Database.

CMS is now exploring options to implement mandatory state reporting. The agency has begun requiring that states submit termination letters for each provider entered in the MCSIS, and that CMS employees review each letter to ensure the provider belongs in the system.

What This Means for Medicaid Providers.

As CMS works to improve this database, those providers who have fallen through the cracks due to the reporting lag will now face repercussions for exclusion. Exclusion from Medicaid could mean exclusion from Medicare and other federal providers. It is important that health care providers know their status regarding exclusion, and contact an experience attorneys to assist them in having their names removed from exclusion lists.

To read more on the devastating consequences of exclusion, click here for a previous blog.

Contact Attorneys Experienced in Defending Against Action to Exclude an Individual or Business from the Medicare or Medicaid Programs.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm have experience in dealing with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and defending against action to exclude an individual or business entity from the Medicare or Medicaid  Programs, in administrative hearings on this type of action, in submitting applications requesting reinstatement to the Medicare Program after exclusion, and removal from the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE).

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, do you know your status regarding exclusion? Are you aware of the consequences of being excluded? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Pell, M.B. “U.S Database for Tracking Medicaid Fraud Fall Short, Auditor Says.” Reuters. (March 27, 2014). From: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/27/us-usa-medicaid-database-idUSBREA2Q08D20140327

Levinson, Daniel. “CMS’s Process for Sharing Information About Terminated Providers Needs Improvement.” Department of Health and Human Service Office of Inspector General. (March 2014). From: http://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-06-12-00031.pdf

About the Author: Lenis L. Archer is as 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.

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.

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.

 

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