Tag Archives: administrative law judge

Physician Argues Definition of “Peer” at Formal Administrative Hearing

peer reviewFACTS: The Agency for Health Care Administration (“AHCA”) is responsible for administering Florida’s Medicaid program and conducting investigations and audits of paid claims to ascertain if Medicaid providers have been overpaid. With regard to investigations of physicians, section 409.9131, Florida Statutes, provides that AHCA must have a “peer” evaluate Medicaid claims before the initiation of formal proceedings by AHCA to recover overpayments. Section 409.9131(2)(c) defines a “peer” as “a Florida licensed physician who is, to the maximum extent possible, of the same specialty or subspecialty, licensed under the same chapter, and in active practice.” Section “109.9131(2)(a) deems a physician to be in “active practice” if he or she has “regularly provided medical care and treatment to patients within the past two years.”

Alfred Murciano, M.D., treats patients who are hospitalized in Level III neonatal intensive care units and pediatric intensive care units in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach County hospitals. His practice is limited to pediatric infectious disease. He has been certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in two areas: General Pediatrics and Pediatric Infectious Diseases. AHCA initiated a review of Medicaid claims submitted by Dr. Murciano between September 1, 2008, and August 31, 2010, and referred those claims to Richard Keith O’Hern, M.D., for peer review. Dr. O’Hern practiced medicine for 37 years, and was engaged in a private general pediatric practice until he retired in December of 2012. During the course of his career, he was certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in General Pediatrics, completed a one-year infectious disease fellowship at the The University of Florida, and treated approximately 16,000 babies with infectious disease issues. However, he was never board certified in pediatric infectious diseases, and at the time he reviewed Dr. Murciano’s Medicaid claims, Dr. O’Hern would have been ineligible for board certification in pediatric infectious diseases. In addition, Dr. O’Hern would have been unable to treat Dr. Murciano’s hospitalized patients in Level III NICUs and PICUs.

After Dr. O’Hern’s review, AHCA issued a Final Agency Audit Report alleging Dr Murciano had been overpaid by $l,051.992.99, and that he was required to reimburse AHCA for the overpayment. In addition, AHCA stated it was seeking to impose a fine of $210,398.60.

OUTCOME: Dr. Murciano argued at the formal administrative hearing that Dr O’Hern was not a “peer” as that term is defined in section 409.9131(20)(c). The ALJ agreed and issued a Recommended Order on May 22, 2014, recommending that AHCA’s case be dismissed because it failed to satisfy a condition precedent to initiating formal proceedings. While recognizing that AHCA is not required to retain a reviewing physician with the exact credentials as the physician under review, the ALJ concluded Dr. O’Hern was not of the same specialty as Dr. Murciano.

On July 31, 2014, AHCA rendered a Partial Final Order rejecting the ALJ’s conclusion that Dr. O’Hern was not a “peer.” In the course of ruling that it has substantive jurisdiction over such conclusions and that its interpretation of section 409.9131(2)(c), Florida Statutes, is entitled to deference, AHCA stated that it interprets the statute “to mean that the peer must practice in the same area as Respondent, hold the same professional license as Respondent, and be in active practice like Respondent.” AHCA concluded that “Dr. O’Hern is indeed a ‘peer’ of Respondent under the Agency’s interpretation of Section 409.9131(2)(c), Florida Statutes, because he too has a Florida medical license, is a pediatrician and had an active practice at the time he reviewed Respondent’s records. That Dr. O’Hern did not hold the same certification as Respondent, or have a professional practice identical to Respondent in no way means he is not a ‘peer’ of Respondent.” AHCA’s rejection of the ALJ’s conclusion of law regarding Dr. O’Hern’s “peer” status caused AHCA to remand the case back to the ALJ to make the factual findings on the claimed overpayments that were not made in the Recommended Order because of the ALJ’s conclusion that Dr. O’Hern did not qualify as a “peer.”

On August 18, 2014, the ALJ issued an Order respectfully declining AHCA’s remand. AHCA then filed a Petition for writ of Mandamus in the First District Court of Appeal, asking the court to direct the ALA to accept the remand and to enter findings of fact and conclusions of law with regard to each overpayment claim. The court assigned case number 1D14-3836 to AHCA’s Petition, and the case is pending.
Source:

AHCA v. Alfred Murciano, M.D., DOAH Case No. 13-0795MPI (Recommended Order May 22, 2014), AHCA Rendition No. 14-687-FOF-MDO (Partial Final Order July 31, 2014)
About the Author: The forgoing case summary was prepared by and appeared in the DOAH case notes of the Administrative Law Section newsletter, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Dec. 2014), a publication of the Administrative Law Section of The Florida Bar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source:

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

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

 

AHCA Expert Not Allowed to “Use His Discretion” in Deciding Claims Were Improper in Medicaid Appeal Hearing

FACTS: The Agency for Health Care Administration’s (“AHCA”) Office of Medicaid Program Integrity audited Dr. Rao, an authorized provider of Medicaid services, for claims between July 1, 2007, and June 30, 2009, and found him to be in violation of certain Medicaid provider policies. AHCA prepared a Final Audit Letter on June 1, 2011, notifying Dr. Rao that he had been overpaid by the Medicaid program by $110,712.09 for services provided during the audit period. Dr. Rao’s administrative hearing challenging AHCA’s overpayment determination was pending before DOAH. On August 17, 2012, Dr. Rao filed an unadopted rule challenge, alleging that AHCA’s overpayment determination was based on unadopted rules regarding the medical necessity of long-term monitored electroencephalograms (LTM EEGs).

OUTCOME: The ALJ found that AHCA’s peer review expert applied certain standards to the Medicaid claims he examined in conducting the Medicaid audit, but “exercised his discretion as to whether to apply them based on the specifics of each patient’s medical records.” The ALJ dismissed the unadopted rule challenge, explaining that “where application of agency policy is subject to the discretion of agency personnel, the policy is not a rule. . . . The medical standards at issue in this case are not self-executing and require the exercise of discretion in their application.” The ALJ noted that “the medical standards of practice must be applied on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the services provided were medically necessary, and provided both an appropriate level of care and standard of care ‘customarily furnished by the physician’s peers and to recognized health care standards” as required by section 409.9131(2)(d), Florida Statutes.

Source:

Radhakrishna K. Rao et al. v. AHCA, DOAH Case No. 12-2813RU (Final Order Aug. 20, 2013).

About the Author: The forgoing case summary was prepared by and appeared in the DOAH case notes of the Administrative Law Section newsletter, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Dec. 2013), a publication of the Administrative Law Section of The Florida Bar.

Invoking Fifth Amendment by Applicant’s Personnel May Result in Denial of Their Application for a License

The foregoing case summary was prepared by and appeared in the DOAH case notes of the Administrative Law Section newsletter

FACTS: The Agency for Health Care Administration (“AHCA”) denied Avalon Assisted Living III’s (“Avalon III”) application for licensure of an assisted living facility in Orlando. Avalon III challenged the denial, and the case was referred to DOAH for a formal hearing. During AHCA’s attempts to obtain discovery, two people closely associated with Avalon III (Mr. Robert Walker and Mrs. Chiqquittia Carter-Walker) invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege against selfincrimination in response to questions regarding the grounds stated by AHCA in its initial decision to deny the license. These areas of inquiry included alleged unlicensed activity, the ownership and control of Avalon III, and Avalon III’s lease on the facility sought to be licensed. Based on Avalon III’s failure to provide any relevant information during three discovery depositions, AHCA filed a Motion to Dismiss on September 16, 2013. In an Order issued on September 27, 2013, the ALJ stated that dismissal of Avalon III’s petition and denial of its licensure application would be an appropriate sanction. However, in an abundance of caution, the ALJ gave Avalon III one more chance to have the Walkers answer deposition questions without invoking the Fifth Amendment. Avalon III responded to the Order by filing a notice that the Walkers would answer deposition questions regarding ownership and the lease without invoking the Fifth Amendment. Conspicuously absent from the notice was any assurance the Walkers would answer questions about the alleged unlicensed activity.

OUTCOME: The ALJ issued an Order recommending that AHCA deny Avalon III’s application. In contrast to licensure disciplinary cases in which the agency has the burden of proof, Avalon III had the burden of proving entitlement to licensure, and the Walkers were the only people with knowledge of the relevant issues. Accordingly, their refusal to answer deposition questions left Avalon III “in an untenable position,” preventing Avalon III from proving its entitlement to licensure.

Source:

Avalon’s Assisted Living III, LLC v. Agency for Health Care Administration, DOAH Case No. 09-6342 (Recommended Order Oct. 9, 2013).

About the Author: The foregoing case summary was prepared by and appeared in the DOAH case notes of the Administrative Law Section newsletter, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Dec. 2013), a publication of the Administrative law Section of The Florida Bar.

Appeal Court Rules AHCA Was Justified in Withdrawing Home Health Agency’s License Application

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

The First District Court of Appeal has ruled that the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) had substantial justification to withdraw a home health agency’s application for licensure in a recent case. To view the opinion, click here.

Home Health Agency Challenged AHCA’s Decision to Withdraw Application.

AHCA withdrew the home health care facility’s license application because the application allegedly contained insufficient information. The application did not provide enough information for AHCA to verify actual ownership of the facility.

The home health agency challenged AHCA’s decision. The administrative law judge (ALJ) ruled that AHCA incorrectly withdrew the application. According to the ALJ, the application was complete, and the home health agency met all the requirements for licensure at the time the application was submitted. To view the recommended order, click here.

Home Health Agency Awarded Attorney’s Fees by ALJ.

After receiving this favorable order, the home health agency moved for attorney’s fees pursuant to section 57.111(4)(a), Fla. Stat. The home health agency argued that AHCA had no justification for withdrawing its license application. At a separate hearing, the ALJ awarded attorney’s fees to the home health care facility.

Appeal Court Reverses ALJ’s Ruling.

AHCA appealed this decision. On its license application, the home health agency had allegedly claimed that one person had sole ownership of the facility. However, a letter informing AHCA of litigation contesting the sole ownership claim was included with the license application. According to the court of appeal, given the uncertainty the home health agency created concerning its ownership, there was substantial justification for AHCA’s action. The ALJ’s ruling was reversed by the court of appeal.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Home Health Agency Cases.

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys represent home health agencies and home health agency employees in a number of different matters including incorporation, preparing contracts, defending the facility against malpractice claims, licensing and regulatory matters, administrative hearings, and routine legal advice.

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

Sources Include:

Agency for Health Care Administration v. MVP Health, Inc. 74 So. 3d 1141 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011)

Smallwood, Mary F. “Attorney’s Fees.” Administrative Law Section Newsletter. (Apr. 2012).

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.

Orlando-based Assisted Living Facilities Appeal ALJ Decision, Win Case Against AHCA

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

Two related assisted living facilities (ALFs) based in Orlando won a case against the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) on appeal. The First District Court of Appeal heard the case and filed an opinion in favor of the ALFs on November 30, 2011.

 To view the opinion in this case, click here.

Appeals Court Dismissed Three Complaints Made by AHCA.

On appeal, the ALFs challenged a final order issued by AHCA. The amended final order revoked the ALFs’ licenses, denied their licensure renewal applications, and imposed administrative fines. 

After conducting an investigation, AHCA filed a four count administrative complaint. The court of appeal dismissed AHCA’s conclusion that the first three counts were proven. The appeal court dismissed these counts because they consisted of uncorroborated hearsay.

AHCA Alleged ALFs’ Owners Operated Third Facility Without a Valid License.

The fourth count against the ALFs alleged that the ALFs’ owners/administrators operated a third Florida facility without obtaining a valid license or qualifying for a license exemption. The ALFs argued that AHCA failed to present any witness at the administrative hearing who had first-hand knowledge that the facility in question was providing personal services “for a period of 24 hours to one or more adults who are not relatives of the owner or administrator.” These are material elements of the statutory definition of assisted living facility that AHCA was required to prove.

AHCA Offered Testimony from the ALFs’ Employees at Administrative Hearing.

At the administrative hearing, AHCA offered testimony from an employee who worked at the third facility from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. She testified that the facility had five or six residents when she worked there for six weeks in Summer 2009. She said that she never saw a resident leave the facility at the end of the day or arrive in the morning.

In the recommended order, the administrative law judge (ALJ) found that there was no evidence presented by the ALFs that the residents were transported to another location at night. Click here to view the recommended order.

Court of Appeal Rules ALJ Improperly Shifted the Burden of Proof, Reverses Final Order.

The First District Court of Appeal ruled that the ALJ improperly shifted the burden of proof to the ALFs. The burden was misplaced when the ALJ suggested that the ALFs should have provided proof that the residents were transported out of the facility during the night. According to the court of appeal, it was AHCA’s burden to establish that the facility was an unlicensed ALF. Furthermore, the court ruled that the testimony offered by AHCA did not foreclose the possibility that these residents were at the facility for periods less than 24 hours. Therefore, the court ruled that AHCA did not meet its burden of proof. The final order was reversed.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Assisted Living Facilities.

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys represent assisted living facilities (ALFs) and ALF employees in a number of different matters including incorporation, preparing contracts, defending the facility against malpractice claims, licensing and regulatory matters, administrative hearings, and routine legal advice.

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

Sources Include:

Smallwood, Mary F. “Adjudicatory Proceedings.” Administrative Law Section Newsletter. (Apr. 2012).

LeadingAge Florida. “Florida Supreme Court Requested to Hear ALF Case.” LeadingAge Florida. (2012). From: http://www.fahsa.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=96

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.