Tag Archives: Florida health law attorney

The American Academy of Family Physicians Releases Third List for Choosing Wisely Campaign

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

On September 24, 2013, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) released its third list of commonly prescribed tests and procedures that may not be necessary. This list is part of the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation’s Choosing Wisely campaign.

The Choosing Wisely Campaign was initiated to give patients a catalog of procedures, tests and treatments that have been overused, misused or have been identified as ineffective. Since its launch in April 2012, more than fifty (50) medical specialty societies have created lists of procedures, tests and drug treatments that deserve to be questioned before a physician orders them or patients accept them.

The purpose is to help patients become more discriminating about what care they receive. Physicians and health care providers also need to use this information to review the latest research and use that information to help avoid any litigation.

I’ve previously written about the Choosing Wisely campaign. Click here for part one and here for part two.

AAFP’s Updated List of Commonly Prescribed Tests and Procedures That May Not be Necessary.

1. Do not prescribe antibiotics for otitis media in children aged 2-12 years with non-severe symptoms where the observation option is reasonable.

2. Do not perform voiding cystourethrogram routinely in first febrile urinary tract infection in children aged 2-24 months.

3. Do not routinely screen for prostate cancer using a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test or digital rectal exam. Evidence suggests that PSA-based screening leads to an overdiagnosis of prostate tumors.

4. Do not screen adolescents for scoliosis. Potential harms include unnecessary follow-up visits resulting from false-positive test results.

5. Do not require a pelvic exam or other physical exam to prescribe oral contraceptive medications. Hormonal contraceptives are safe, effective, and well tolerated by most women.

Click here to read the AAFP’s previous recommendations.

Health Care Providers and Professionals’ Responsibility to Patients.

A doctor should have the knowledge, skill, training, and confidence to know when such tests and procedures are not warranted. Also, a health care professional or provider should not be swayed by increasing his/her personal bottom line. Specifically, physicians that work in a fee-for-service setting that rewards doctors for performing more procedures are at risk for ordering unnecessary tests or procedures. If a physician persists in ordering these tests solely for the means of increasing profits, he or she should be penalized. If not, the physician should be able to justify them.

Laws Protect Patients from Unnecessary Testing.

This situation may have the side effect of promoting additional litigation against doctors, healthcare clinics and hospitals that provide the unnecessary tests and procedures. Many states have laws that prohibit unnecessary tests and procedures and sanction those who provide them. For instance, Section 766.111, Florida Statutes, provides a private cause of action by a patient against a health provider who orders or furnishes such “unnecessary” diagnostic tests, but unlike other tort and medical malpractice statutes, it allows the prevailing party in such a case to recover attorney’s fees and costs. This law may by itself promote litigation in the face of the lists of tests produced by the specialty groups in the Choosing Wisely campaign.

Look for More Whistleblower/Qui Tam Cases.

As this list continues to grow, I believe that we will see more qui tam/whistleblower and false claims cases.

Qui tam cases have been brought under the federal False Claims Act for the recovery of Medicare payments from hospitals, physicians, nursing homes, diagnostic testing facilities, clinical laboratories, radiology facilities and many other types of healthcare providers. These cases allege that a false claim was submitted to the government. If the test or procedure was unnecessary, then it seems almost axiomatic that a claim for it is false. The plaintiff bringing such cases receives a percentage of the recovery, which often amounts to millions of dollars in successful cases.

Most states now have similar false claims act or qui tam laws providing similar causes of action and recoveries to individual plaintiffs in the case of state Medicaid payments as well.

Because medical necessity is a requirement for practically every Medicare and Medicaid service, as well as most services paid by private health insurers, the lists provided by the specialty may very well be exhibit one in future lawsuits.

We’ve recently written about a couple of whistleblower/qui tam cases stemming from unnecessary procedures. To read a blog on a group of Florida radiation oncology service providers accused of performing unnecessary and improperly supervised procedures, click here. To read a blog on Winter Park Urology’s settlement over allegations stemming from radiation therapy used to treat cancer patients, click here.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, nurses and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.
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 professional or provider what do you think of the Choosing Wisely campaign? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Hand, Larry. “AAFP Releases Third Choosing Wisely List.” Medscape. (September 25, 2013). From: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/811638

Carman, Diane. “Useless, Costly Medical Procedures Targeted by Choosing Wisely Campaign.” Health Policy Solutions. (October 15, 2013). From: http://www.healthpolicysolutions.org/2013/10/15/useless-costly-medical-procedures-targeted-by-choosing-wisely-campaign/

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 © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Number of Oxycodone-Related Deaths Down in Florida

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

It looks like Florida’s prescription drug legislation, the statewide prescription drug monitoring database and the prescription drug crackdowns by law enforcement may be working, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). The FDLE states in its semi-annual report, oxycodone-related deaths statewide dropped between January and June of 2012, compared to the same period of time in 2011. A look at the national numbers shows that the number of people abusing prescription drugs is also down.

Florida and National Numbers.

In the first half of 2012, there were 759 oxycodone-related deaths in Florida, according to the Orlando Sentinel. That number is down from 1,058 during the same time period a year before. The Orlando Sentinel states that nationwide 7 million people abused prescription drugs in 2010. By 2011, that number had dropped to 6.1 million. Studies also show prescription drug use among young adults ages 18 to 25 is also on the decline. The Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation Director believes these numbers are down because young people are realizing these drugs are dangerous and can be deadly.

Click here to read the entire article from the Orlando Sentinel.

Florida Cracks Down on Prescription Drug Abuse.

Previously, Florida was known as a state where drug addicts and dealers could easily find a pill mill or go doctor shopping to get prescription drugs. In the past two years, Florida state leaders and law enforcement officials have stepped up regulations and made serious crackdowns on doctors, pharmacists and pharmacies.

In April 2013, a Lake Mary doctor was sentenced to 25 years in prison for trafficking prescription drugs. Click here to read that story. In December 2012, a fake prescription drug ring was busted in Osceola County. To read that story, click here. In June 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Florida law enforcement announced operation “Pill Street Blues” targeting doctors and clinic owners across Florida. Click here to read more.

Health Care Professional Must Stay Ahead of Patients with Chronic Pain.

Even though the number of people abusing prescription drugs is down, state regulatory boards, private certification boards and federal agencies are not going to ease up. Many physicians in practice today are eschewing multi-disciplinary approaches to treating chronic pain in favor of monotherapies with narcotic medications.

These physicians do this at their own peril. In our practice we see many physicians in trouble with state medical boards and law enforcement officials because of their prescribing practices. If you treat patients with chronic pain it is imperative that you stay ahead of them. Click here to read a blog on legal tips for health care professionals to manage pain patients.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Investigations 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 Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations, Medicare investigations, Medicaid investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

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

Comments?

Do you think the new legislation, the state prescription drug monitoring database and the crackdowns by law enforcement are making a difference in the war against prescription drugs? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Pavuk, Amy. “‘We Can Stop This Epidemic,’ CDC Boss Says at Rx-Drug Abuse Summit in Orlando.” Orlando Sentinel. (April 2, 2013). From: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-prescription-drug-abuse-summit-20130402,0,4693169.story

Pavuk, Amy. “Drug-Related Deaths Plunge in First Half of 2012.” Orlando Sentinel. (March 25, 2013). From: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-drug-deaths-down-20130325,0,6750345.story

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 © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

It’s the End to the Eyeball Wars-Optometrists and Ophthalmologists Come to an Agreement: Optometrists Allowed to Prescribe

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 April 4, 2013, the Florida Senate passed Florida Governor Rick Scott a hard-fought bill that would expand the drug-prescribing practices of optometrists, according to the Associated Press. House Bill 239 has pitted optometrists against ophthalmologists for years in what was called the “eyeball wars.” (Click here to read House Bill 239.) The Senate sent a measure to the governor that would allow optometrists to prescribe some medications, while adding new patient protections.

To read the article from the Associated Press, click here.

I previously blogged about this topic when the bill was still being voted on in the House. Click here to read what supporters and opponents of House Bill 239 had to say about it.

The Final Bill-Optometrists to be Allowed to Prescribe.

According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, the final bill was an agreement between the Florida Society of Ophthalmologists and the Florida Optometric Association. Optometrists wanted to ability to prescribe medications other than ointments and creams. Ophthalmologists argued optometrists are not doctors and did not receive the proper training to prescribe medicine.

The compromise under the final bill says optometrists would be allowed to prescribe 14 oral drugs, including antibiotics. However, optometrists will not be allowed to prescribe controlled substances. The measure clarifies that optometrists cannot perform surgeries and requires them to report any bad medical outcomes to the state, as ophthalmologists are required to do.

Click here to read the entire article from the Orlando Sentinel.

Hopes for House Bill 239.

State Senators voted 40-0 to pass the bill. Optometrists believed that House Bill 239 will help Floridians get the most appropriate eye treatment. This bill will also allegedly help cut down on duplicate services, and in return, reduce costs for patients.

If Governor Scott signs the bill, it will officially put an end this turf war over eyes.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Investigations of Optometrists and Ophthalmologists.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to optometrists, ophthalmologists and other health providers in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations, Medicare investigations, Medicaid investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

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 the new bill? Do you think optometrists prescribing medication is a good idea or a bad idea? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Associated Press. “Bill Expands Prescribing Powers for Optometrists.” The Tampa Bay Tribune. (April 4, 2013). From: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/F/FL_XGR_OPTOMETRISTS_FLOL-?SITE=FLTAM&SECTION=STATE&TEMPLATE=

Haughney, Kathleen. “Eyeball Wars Comes to an End.” Orlando Sentinel. (April 4, 2013). From: http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_politics/?p=42985

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 © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Medical Negligence – An Accidental Overdose of Prescription Pain Pills Can Lead to Lawsuits

GFI Blog LabelBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law and Carole C. Schriefer, R.N., J.D., The Health Law Firm

In February 2009, a 30-year-old male patient was prescribed, all together, 180 pills of Dilaudid and Xanax from a South Florida pain clinic. Sometime within the next 24 hours the patient died of what medical examiners ruled an overdose. According to the American Association for Justice, the patient’s family then sued the pain management clinic alleging the clinic’s physician prescribed a lethal overdose of the drugs and the defendant was liable for damages resulting from the patient’s murder. In the lawsuit, the jury awarded the plaintiff more than $5.33 million.

Physicians and Business Owners Liable for Medical Negligence.

According to an article in American Medical News, of the pharmaceutical-related overdoses in 2010, seventy-four percent (74%) were unintentional. As prescription drug overdoses rise across the country, we are seeing some physicians and business owners held liable for medical negligence.

For example, in May 2012, an Alabama jury ruled a widower to receive $500,000 after he sued his wife’s physician. His wife died of an accidental overdose after being prescribed a number of narcotic pain medications. In April 2012, a woman was awarded $1.9 million after she sued her family physician claiming he over prescribed her methadone, which led to brain damage after she stopped breathing, according to American Medical News.

Click here to read the entire article from American Medical News.

Protecting Your Business and License.

Health care professionals need to pay close attention to patients who request pain medication. Being proactive about prescription management can also deter lawsuits or help in doctors’ defense if they are sued. Physicians must make sure their records meet all requirements of state laws and regulations. In cases where a patient has been “doctor-shopping” in order to abuse pain pills, we see state disciplinary investigations initiated against each physician who prescribed that individual medication. In most cases, these physicians were unaware of the other prescribers. Disciplinary actions such as these can often be defended when the physician has taken the proper safeguards.

Click here to read legal tips for physicians to manage pain patients.

Drug Monitoring Programs are Here to Stay.

The growing epidemic has some states developing drug monitoring programs to track drug seekers.

In Florida, a bill that would require doctors to check with the state’s drug database before writing a prescription for addictive medications passed in a House panel on March 19, 2013. Recently, legislators in California, Pennsylvania and Kentucky are contemplating moves to tighten monitoring and prescribing of controlled substances. Click here to read a blog on the possible new actions in these states.

Health professionals should take note, these prescription drug monitoring programs can, and will be, used as a prosecution tool.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Investigations 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 Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations, Medicare investigations, Medicaid investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

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

Comments?

Do you think physicians and business owners should be held liable for medical negligence in cases of an accidental overdose? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Department of Justice. “Thirty-Two Indicted in Broward and Palm Beach Counties in Second Coordinated Pill Mill Takedown.” Department of Justice. (August 23, 2011). From: http://www.justice.gov/usao/fls/PressReleases/110823-04.html

Gallegos, Alicia. “Physician Liability: When an Overdose Brings a Lawsuit.” American Medical News. (March 4, 2013). From: http://www.thehealthlawfirm.com/uploads/AMN_Overdose%20Lawsuits.PDF

LaMendola, Bob. “Pain Clinic Boss Jeffrey George Pleads Guilty to Murder.” Sun Sentinel. (August 29, 2011). From: http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2011-08-29/health/fl-hk-jeff-george-pleads-guilty-20110829_1_pain-clinic-cynthia-cadet-george-twins

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.

Carole C. Schriefer 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 © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Optometrists and Ophthalmologists Not Seeing Eye to Eye Over Proposed Law Allowing Prescribing

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

This year Florida House Bill 239 and Florida Senate Bill 278 has been reignited in the Florida Legislature. This legislation is pitting optometrists and ophthalmologists against each other in what is being called the “eyeball wars,” according to the Fort Myers News-Press. These bills would expand the authority of optometrists to prescribe certain medications and treat some eye conditions. Optometrists and ophthalmologists are both trying to gain support for their respective viewpoints.

Click here to read the article from Fort Myers News-Press.

Florida House Bill 239 and Florida Senate Bill 278.

Most notably, the bills would expand the scope of practice for optometrists. Optometrists would have prescribing authority of oral medications. However, they would not have the ability to prescribe Schedule I and II narcotics. Optometrists would also be allowed to perform clinical laboratory studies.

Click here to read Florida House Bill 239, and click here to read Florida Senate Bill 278.

Supporters Believe This Law Would Reduce Health Care Costs and Increase Access to Eye Care.

The backers of expanding prescribing authority to optometrists say it will help reduce health care costs and make treatment more available to communities short on ophthalmologists. According to a statement by the Florida Optometric Association, expanding the ability for optometrists to prescribe oral medications saves money, increases access to eye care, and saves people from losing vision due to treatment delays. According to the Fort Myers News-Press, this authority has been granted to optometrists in 48 states.

Ophthalmologists Say Patients’ Safety is at Stake.

According to the Florida Society of Ophthalmology, allowing an expansion of prescribing authority is a dangerous move for patients. A letter from the American Academy of Ophthalmology states that the language in the legislature is vague, broad and misleading. It also states that the training ophthalmologists receive provides them with not only technical skills, but instills the judgment one needs to determine when (and when not) to prescribe specific medications. To read the entire letter, click here.

Other associations opposed to the bill include Florida Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, Florida Society of Rheumatology, Florida Society of Anesthesiologists, Hillsborough County Medical Association. Letters written by each of these societies can be read by clicking here.

Progression of the Bill. 

Florida House Bill 239 was passed by the House Health and Human Services Committee on March 7, 2013, and is now ready for the House Floor. On March 6, 2013, a Florida Senate panel voted 10-3 to approve Senate Bill 278. The bill has now been handed over to the Appropriation Committee.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Investigations of Optometrists and Ophthalmologists.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to optometrists, ophthalmologists and other health providers in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations, Medicare investigations, Medicaid investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

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 optometrists being able to prescribe oral medication? Are you for or against this legislature? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Gluck, Frank. “Not Seeing Eye to Eye: Optometrists, Ophthalmologists Differ on Bills.” Fort Myers News-Press. (March 7, 2013). From: http://www.news-press.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013303070027&nclick_check=1

Corcoran, Richard. Letter Opposing HB 239 and SB 278. American Academy of Ophthalmology. (February 4, 2013). From: http://www.mdeye.org/pdfs/AAOHB239OppositionLetter.pdf

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 © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Massage Therapists Needs Good Professional Liability Insurance, Too

00011_RT8By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Whether you’re an independent contractor, an employee of a chiropractor, physician or spa, or you travel to clients’ homes, insurance is essential for all massage therapists. Not only can professional liability insurance protect you in the event of a lawsuit, but it may also pay your legal defenses in the event of a complaint against your license to practice or for other legal problems. In Florida, it is not mandatory for a massage therapist to have professional liability insurance. However, since it is so cheap, we always recommend buying coverage. It’s a small price to pay to protect your livelihood. But be sure it covers the investigation of your license.

It is now common to be able to find professional liability insurance that provides excellent coverage and excellent benefits, but costs less than a dollar a day. One policy I recently reviewed for a massage therapist included payment of all attorney’s fees and costs for defense of HIPAA privacy complaints, for defense of any complaints or investigations of the therapist’s license and for legal representation at any deposition.

The Most Important Reason to Buy Insurance: To Provide Legal Protection for a Massage Therapist’s License.

The primary reason a professional liability policy should be purchased is that this type of insurance usually includes coverage for legal defense of licensing and disciplinary action commenced against a massage therapist. It’s important to note that many massage therapists’ liability insurance includes this coverage automatically, but some policies may not. Some companies may offer this type of coverage separately to be purchased for a small additional premium.

License defense coverage pays the legal fees associated with defending a massage therapist when an investigation is initiated that may result in action against the massage therapist’s license or in administrative disciplinary action. Coverage is usually available from the time the massage therapist receives written notice that an investigation by a state agency has been initiated. It will also cover formal administrative hearings before an administrative law judge.

You should buy this coverage now, when you don’t need it. Otherwise, when you do need it, it will be too late after the problem arises.

Please Think About These Points When Buying Liability Protection.

When deciding on which professional liability insurance plan to purchase, the massage therapist should inquire as to the extent of coverage for licensing and disciplinary defense coverage. Some professional liability insurers have a “broad form” of coverage which may provide legal defense for the massage therapist in almost any type of administrative action. Other companies limit coverage to only actions that may result in disciplinary action against the massage therapist’s license. Still others provide no coverage at all except for lawsuits in professional negligence cases. The massage therapist should always attempt to get the broadest coverage available and be sure it covers disciplinary defense and licensure defense expenses.

The massage therapist should also question as to whether or not he or she will be allowed to select his or her own attorney. Many insurance companies have contracts with certain law firms to provide legal services for a reduced fee. The insurance company may require you to use one of its own contracted attorneys or in-house attorneys which it employs directly. Given the limited number of attorneys with experience in handling massage therapy law issues, it is advised to obtain coverage through a company which allows the massage therapist to choose his or her own attorney, especially for license defense.

The most important reason to purchase professional liability insurance is for the licensure defense coverage. A massage therapist does not want to risk losing his/her license because he/she was unsuccessful at defending in an investigation or did not have the resources to do so.

Question Your Coverage – Get Answers in Writing.

Since there are many different insurance companies out there selling professional liability insurance, it is important to be sure of exactly what is covered and what is not covered. Some companies provide “broad form” coverage, providing coverage for everything I discussed above, automatically. See Healthcare Provider’s Service Organization (HPSO) Insurance for example.

Other companies will provide this coverage as a “rider” for a small additional premium. Some insurers do not sell it at all, so you will have to buy it elsewhere. If you are in doubt as to your coverage, ask and get the answer in writing.

Insurance agents typically deal with a number of insurance companies. If you are using an insurance agent, be sure to specify exactly what you want. A good agent will be able to find it for you.

It’s Expensive to Defend Your License, Insurance Helps.

Legal representation is costly. To defend a simple case involving a complaint made against you, whether valid or not, can range from $3,000 to $25,000 or more. A case involving a formal hearing (similar to a trial) can cost much more than you imagine. If you are not independently wealthy and cannot afford a legal defense, you may be forced to accept discipline from the Board of Massage Therapy, even if you are completely innocent.

The rules and procedures in administrative licensing cases are not the same as cases in civil and criminal courts. An insurance policy that provides licensure defense will help the massage therapist to have the financial resources to seek out a health law attorney experienced in disciplinary cases and to obtain a fair hearing.

More Than 100 Massage Therapists’ Licenses Were Suspended in Florida.

You may remember in September of 2012, the Florida Secretary of Health signed 161 emergency suspension orders (ESOs) for massage therapists in Florida. The suspension orders were aimed at massage therapists who allegedly obtained their licenses to practice through a transcript-buying scandal at the Florida College of Natural Health. Many of these massage therapists are still fighting to keep their licenses. This is just one instance where having professional liability insurance can help save a health care professional’s livelihood. You can read more on the suspension of the 161 massage therapists’ licenses by clicking here.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Massage Therapists.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to massage therapists in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, licensing matters and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

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 massage therapist, do you have professional liability insurance? Why or why not? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

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 © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Burden of Proof in Administrative Cases Involving Discipline of a Health Professional’s License – Part 2

4 Indest-2009-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

I am often asked about the burden of proof that must be met by the state Department of Health (DOH) in professional licensing disciplinary cases. This could be a complaint against a physician, dentists, mental health counselor, nurse, psychologist, pharmacist or anyone else. It also includes, for example, engineers, general contractors, school teachers, architects, cosmetologists, or any other professional holding a professional license in Florida. However, since we routinely represent health professionals, I will continue to concentrate on those licenses by the state DOH in this blog. Click here to read part one.

Fifth Amendment Protection Against Self-Incrimination Applies.

Because potential license revocation proceedings are penal in nature, a respondent or license holder in such an investigation or administrative hearing has the right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and under the Florida Constitution.

Otherwise, this would defeat the spirit and intent of the constitutional protections guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United State Constitution. See, State v. Caballero, 396 So. 2d 1210, 1213 (Fla. 3d DCA 1981) (“A coerced confession offends due process of law.”); Dickerson v. U.S., 530 U.S. 428, 434, 120 S. Ct. 2326, 2331 (2000) (“We have never abandoned this due process jurisprudence, and thus continue to exclude confessions that were obtained involuntarily”); Chambers v. State of Fla., 309 U.S. 227, 228, 60 S. Ct. 472, 473 (1940) (“[U]se by a state of an improperly obtained confession may constitute a denial of due process of law as guaranteed in the Fourteenth Amendment”); and Barnes v. Merrill, 2002 WL 1313123 (D. Me. 2002) (“Involuntary statements are inadmissible under the Fifth Amendment requirement that no person can be compelled to be a witness against himself in a criminal case.”).

For Florida cases on point, see, Chancellor Media Whiteco Outdoor v. Fla. Dep’t of Transport., 26 Fla. L. Weekly D627 (Fla. 5th DCA March 2, 2001), substitute opinion entered on rehearing, 795 So. 2d 991, 26 Fla. L. Weekly D1894 (Fla. 5th DCA July 30, 2001). See also, State ex rel. Vining v. Fla. Real Estate Comm’n, 281 So.2d 487, 491 (Fla. 1973); Best Pool & Spa Service Co., Inc. v. Romanik, 622 So. 2d 65, 66 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993) (“We agree that requiring Kassover to answer . . . questions does violate his right against self-incrimination which applies not only to criminal matters but also administrative proceedings such as licensing”).

Florida Courts Require Higher Standard for Administrative Licensure Cases.

In Florida, the courts have adopted and have required the “clear and convincing” standard to be used in any case involving a professional license, finding that such action by the state is punitive or penal in nature and affects a substantial right of the respondent. The key Florida cases that discuss this are two Florida Supreme Court cases, Florida Bar v. Rayman, 238 So. 2d 594 (Fla. 1970) and Ferris v. Turlington, 510 So. 2d 292 (Fla. 1987). See also, Kozerowitz v. Fla. Real Estate Comm’n, 289 So. 2d 391 (Fla. 1974).

Any case in which a state administrative agency seeks a penalty, a fine or action affecting the status of a professional license, would require the application of a “clear and convincing standard.” An action to revoke a professional license is definitely considered to be penal. So too is an action which results in the loss of income, such as by suspending a license (so there is no professional income), a fine, or an order to refund professional fees. McDonald v. Dep’t of Prof. Reg., Bd. of Pilot Commissioners, 582 So. 2d 660 (1st DCA 1991)

Although these are all Florida cases, if you read them and follow their rationale, they go back to basic constitutional principles of due process of law and the taking away of rights or property without due process.

For example, in one case in which I defended a nursing home’s license, the state had evidence that contradicted itself. There were certain facts at issue and the state put forth two different sets of facts. The state could not prove either set of facts by “clear and convincing evidence.” Therefore, by law, the administrative law judge had to rule in favor of the license holder.

Penal Statutes, Such as Professional Discipline Statutes and Professional Practice Acts Must Be Narrowly Interpreted.

A statute is unconstitutionally void for vagueness if it fails to give a personal of ordinary intelligence fair notice of what conduct is forbidden by the Statute. Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156, 92 S. Ct. 839, 31 L. Ed. 2d 110 (1972). United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 74 S. Ct. 808, 98 L. Ed. 989, (1954). Criminal statutes must be written with sufficient specificity so that citizens are given fair warning of the offending conduct, and law enforcement officers are prevented from engaging in arbitrary and erratic enforcement activity. Papachristou; Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88, 60 S. Ct. 736, 84 L. Ed. 1093 (1940); Lanzetta v. New Jersey, 306 U.S. 451, 59 S. Ct. 618, 83 L. Ed. 888 (1939).

Florida case law has long upheld this principle of the common law as well. Statutes must be written well enough so as to provide fair notice to ordinary citizens as to their exact meaning. State v. Warren, 558 So. 2d 55 (Fla. 5th DCA 1990), aff’d. Warren v. State 16 Fla., L. Week 28 (Fla. 1991).

When First Notified of a Pending Investigation Seek the Advice of an Experienced Health Law Attorney.

When you receive any notice, by telephone, by mail, by hand delivery or by information passed along by your employer, that an investigation has been opened against your professional license, immediately contact an attorney experienced in such matters. Do not talk to the investigator. Do not talk to the prosecuting attorney. Do not call the state agency and ask for advice on what you should do. Do not send a written statement explaining your side of the story.

You have important constitutional rights that protect you. But you have to exercise the common sense required to use these rights. Part of this is by obtaining competent legal counsel who can advise you and protect your rights. Again, we remind you that unless an attorney routinely handles this type of case, he or she may be unfamiliar with what your rights are in such a situation or how to handle it.

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

At the Health Law Firm we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, Durable Medical Equipment suppliers, medical students and interns, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other health care provider. We represent facilities, individuals, groups and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers and acquisitions.

The services we provide include reviewing and negotiating contracts, business transactions, professional license defense, representation in investigations, credential defense, representation in peer review and clinical privileges hearings, Medicare and Medicaid audits, commercial litigation, and administrative hearings.

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

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 © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Burden of Proof in Administrative Cases Involving Discipline of a Health Professional’s License – Part 1

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

I am often asked about the burden of proof that must be met by the state Department of Health (DOH) in professional licensing disciplinary cases.  This could be a complaint against a physician, dentists, mental health counselor, nurse, psychologist, pharmacist or anyone else.  It also includes, for example, engineers, general contractors, school teachers, architects, cosmetologists, or any other professional holding a professional license in Florida.  However, since we routinely represent health professionals, I will concentrate on those licenses by the state DOH in this blog.

Overview.

What few people (even attorneys) know is that cases which involve discipline against a professional’s license are treated as “punitive” or “penal” cases.  This means the standards applied to them, at least in Florida, are the same that are applied to criminal cases.

Therefore, if the statute that is being charged is unclear or ambiguous, the courts apply a “strict scrutiny” standard.  If the language of the statute does not clearly prohibit the acts being charged or is unclear about being covered by the statute, then there should be a ruling in favor of the one charged.

Additionally, rights that apply in criminal cases, such as the right to have an attorney and the right to not be compelled to be a witness against oneself found in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, also apply to administrative cases involving discipline against a license holder.

The state has a higher burden of proof in an administrative licensure case, as well.  The burden of proof that applies in a civil case, “preponderance of the evidence” (also described as the greater weight of the evidence, the preponderance of the evidence or more than fifty percent), does not apply in administrative discipline cases.  Instead a higher burden, “clear and convincing evidence” applies.  Therefore, if the evidence supports the license holder’s position, just as much as it supports the state’s case, the state loses.

How Constitutional Rights Are Involved.

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides individuals protection against self-incrimination, stating:

No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. . . .

Note that in Florida, as in most states, a professional license is considered to be a property right which cannot be taken by the state without due process of law.

Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution of Florida also provides similar protections stating:

No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law . . . or be compelled in any criminal matter to be a witness against oneself.

In addition, case law in Florida has upheld as a protected right the individual’s ability to practice a profession of choice if otherwise so qualified.  To take away this right requires due process of law and reviewing courts will apply a strict scrutiny standard.

Under some states’ constitutions or state statutes there is a right to work or a right to practice the profession of one’s choice;  this further lends credibility to an argument that agency actions which take away this substantial right should require a greater burden than that required in a mere civil case (i.e., preponderance of the evidence”).  However, even without such a provision in the state constitution, a professional license (or the right to practice a profession) is a substantial right and to take it away should require a higher burden of proof (e.g., clear and convincing).

Supreme Court Gives More Protection In Cases That Are “Penal.”

The law is settled through U.S. Supreme Court cases that “penal statutes are to be construed strictly, Commissioner v. Acker, 361.U.S. 87, 80 S. Ct. 144, 4. L. Ed. 2d 127 (1959), Fed’l Comm. Comm’n v. Am.  Broadcasting Co., 347  U.S. 284, 296.  One “is not to be subjected to a penalty unless the words of the statute plainly impose it,” Keppel v. Tiffin Savings Bank, 197 U.S. 356, 362.  See, e.g., Tiffany v. National Bank of Missouri, 18 Wall. 409, 410;  Elliott v. RR Co., 99 U.S. 573, 576.

Penal statutes must be construed narrowly and are interpreted against the state.  Any part or term that is vague will not be enforced or will be stricken.  Warren v. State,  16 Fla. L. Week 1346 (Fla. 1991).  Accord, Riley v. Georgia,  219 Ga. 345, 133 S.E. 2d 367 (Ga. 1963);  State v. Morrison, 25 N.J. Super. 534, 96 A. 2d 723 (Essex Cty. Ct., N.J., 1953);  U.S. v. Ortiz, 24 M.J. 164 (CMA 1987), at 168.

Florida Courts Apply Criminal Law Rights and Protections to Cases Involving Administrative Penalties.

The Florida Supreme Court has affirmatively extended the proscription against self-incrimination to any administrative proceeding of a “penal” character.  This could be one in which the state seeks revocation or suspension of a license or one in which the state seeks a fine on a licensee.  Kozerowitz v. Fla. Real Estate Comm’n, 289 So. 2d 391 (Fla. 1974).

Any administrative proceeding in which the state seeks to inflict a penalty against the license or the licensee would invoke these rights.  An action to revoke a professional license is penal.  So, too, is an action which results in the loss of income or a fine.

More to Come.

Be sure to check our blog regularly to learn more on the burden of proof in administrative cases involving discipline of professional licenses. Part two of this blog series will be posted soon.

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

At the Health Law Firm we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, Durable Medical Equipment suppliers, medical students and interns, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other health care provider. We represent facilities, individuals, groups and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers and acquisitions.

The services we provide include reviewing and negotiating contracts, business transactions, professional license defense, representation in investigations, credential defense, representation in peer review and clinical privileges hearings, Medicare and Medicaid audits, commercial litigation, and administrative hearings.

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

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 © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Advice for All Massage Therapists: Please Talk to a Lawyer Before You Talk to the Department of Health (DOH) Investigator

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

Massage therapists, I beseech you: please do not talk to a Department of Health (DOH) investigator until you have talked to a health lawyer who is experienced with DOH investigations and board licensing complaints.  Do not answer or respond to even the most basic questions about where you work now, what your address is or if you know patient x, until consulting with counsel.

Admitting to Anything May Hurt Your Case.

We are routinely consulted by massage therapists and other healthcare providers for representation after they have discussed the case and after it is too late to undo the damage they have caused to themselves. Often they do not understand the seriousness of the matter or the possible consequences, until it is too late. Admitting to even the most basic facts causes damage to any possible defense.

Administrative Licensure Investigations are “Semi-Criminal.”

The vast majority of massage therapists and even most attorneys do not realize that DOH investigations concerning complaints against a massage therapist’s license are considered to be “penal” or “quasi-criminal” proceedings.  This means the same laws and constitutional rights apply to them as apply to criminal investigations.  However, since they are also administrative proceedings and not strictly criminal proceedings, investigators do not need to advise you of your Miranda rights or tell you you have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, etc.

In any criminal investigation a good criminal defense attorney would always tell you “Do not talk to the investigator” and “Tell the investigator you have a lawyer.”

How Investigators Try to Get You to Not Talk to an Attorney.

DOH investigators, police investigators, FBI investigators and other law enforcement officers, are well trained in investigative techniques and how to get information out of suspects.  Often the approach used is to catch you by surprise before you even know there is an investigation and the investigation is of you.  Another technique used is to lull you into a false sense of security that the investigation is about someone or something else and not you.  Another investigative technique is to convince you that you need to “Tell your side of the story” so that the investigation is accurate.  Yet another is that “Things will go much better for you if you cooperate.”  None of these things are true.

However, if it is truly in your best interest to cooperate or to make a statement, after you consult with your attorney, your legal counsel will surely advise you to do this.  The investigator should not mind waiting until you consult your attorney.  However, many will go to extremes to convince you that you don’t need an attorney and shouldn’t get an attorney.

Consult an Experienced Health Law Attorney.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm are experienced in dealing with DOH investigators, AHCA surveyors, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, FBI agents, police and sheriff’s office investigators, OIG special agents (S/As) and Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) investigators. 

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

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.

Disclaimer: Please note that this article represents our opinions based on our many years of practice and experience in this area of health law. You may have a different opinion; you are welcome to it. This one is mine.

Note: This article is for informational purposes only; it is not legal advice.

“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.