By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
I am often contacted by clients who are health professionals or own businesses in the health care industry who have been approached by government agents or investigators regarding possible complaints or charges. In many cases, the individuals involved do not think to consult with an attorney until many months later, and this may be too late to save the business or professional practice involved. This holds for physicians, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, pharmacies, pain management clinics, physician assistants, group homes, assisted living facilities (ALFs) and home health agencies, among others.
“Voluntary” Relinquishment Treated the Same as a Revoked License.
We have seen a trend recently, especially here in Florida, of investigators immediately offering the person being investigated the option to voluntarily relinquish his or her professional license. This is offered as an option to being investigated, even in the event of very minor or frivolous complaints. The problem is that once an investigation has been opened, then a voluntary relinquishment of a license is treated the same as if it were revoked for disciplinary reasons. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to ever get a new license under the circumstances.
Furthermore, if the professional has other licenses or similar licenses in other states, then this will be reported to the other states and disciplinary action will probably be initiated against those other licenses.
We have heard horror stories of investigators, accompanied by police or sheriff’s deputies or Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, making all sorts of threats against a health professional in order to intimidate him or her into giving up a DEA registration number or professional license, including medical licenses, nursing licenses and pharmacy licenses.
In the case of such an incident occurring in Florida, the “voluntary” relinquishment must still be presented to the applicable professional Board and voted on at a scheduled meeting, since it is considered to be disciplinary. It may be possible to withdraw the “voluntary” relinquishment before it is voted on, so all may not be lost.
Think Long and Hard About Relinquishing DEA Registration Number.
However, in the case of the DEA, a DEA registration number is considered gone as soon as the “voluntary” relinquishment paper is signed. This is one of the reasons it is crucial to talk with a knowledgeable health law attorney before making such a decision. The ones putting pressure on you to do this will do everything they can to persuade you not to talk to an attorney. But it is your right to do so. Don’t be rushed or intimidated into making a foolish decision you will regret.
We have represented clients attempting to obtain a new DEA registration number or a new professional license many years after they did a voluntary relinquishment. In most cases, it is an extreme uphill battle and is often not successful.
Additional Consequences of Voluntary Relinquishment of a Professional License or DEA Registration Number.
The following are some of the additional consequences of voluntary relinquishment of professional license or DEA number after notice of an investigation:
1. Disciplinary action will be commenced against any other professional licenses in the state.
2. Disciplinary action will be commenced against any similar licenses in other states.
3. The matter will be reported to any national certification boards of which you are a member and they will most likely commence action against you to revoke your national certification.
4. You will be placed on the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) List of Excluded Entities and Individuals (LEIE) and excluded from the federal Medicare Program.
5. You will be terminated from the state’s Medicaid Program, if you are a Medicaid provider.
6. You will be terminated from the panels of any health insurers or managed care plans of which you are a provider member.
There are many other possible repercussions to such actions, so it is extremely important to be prepared if such an event occurs. To prepare you can:
1. Purchase professional licensing defense insurance coverage through Lloyd’s of London, Healthcare Provider’s Service Organization (HPSO), Nurses Service Organization (NSO) or one of the other reputable insurance companies that provide such coverage.
2. Have the names, telephone numbers and other information on good, reputable criminal defense and health law attorneys at hand at all times. Make sure your practice manager has this information as well.
3. Call as soon as an investigator walks in. Don’t wait.
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, 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.
Have you ever been approached by government agents or investigators about possible complaints or changes? What was the experience like? 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.
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