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Trial Court Must Hold Evidentiary Hearing to Determine Disputed Facts in Public Records Act Suit

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

An interesting summary of a Florida appellate case from Florida’s First District Court of Appeal recently came across my desk. Florida has a very broad Public Records Act and Sunshine Act. We are often involved in suing state agencies for force disclosure of documents and information.

The following is from a summary that was originally published in the newsletter of the Florida Bar’s Administrative Law Section.

Clay Cnty. Ed. Ass’n u. Clay Cnty. Sch. Bd., 144 So. 3d 708 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014).

After requesting various public records related to the Clay County School Board’s operation, and receiving only some of the responsive documents, the Clay County Education Association (CCEA) filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the circuit court to compel production of the records. In unsworn defenses to the complaint, the school board stated that it had already produced the documents, did not have the information in the requested format, or that the requested documents did not exist. The circuit court granted the school board’s motion to dismiss the complaint, and the CCEA appealed.

The First District Court of Appeal reversed, finding that CCEA’s petition for writ of mandamus was legally sufficient. The complaint alleged a violation of a clear legal right and breach of an indisputable legal duty, thereby showing a prima facie basis for relief.

The appellate court also concluded that the circuit court erred by failing to hold an evidentiary hearing to resolve disputed issues of fact, which CCEA requested. The school board’s defenses likewise created issues of fact that should have been grounds for a priority bearing under section 119.01, Florida Statutes.

Additional Comments.

This case is important for several reasons. It took place in the First District Court of Appeal. Since most Florida agencies are located in Tallahassee, most Public Records Act cases are filed there. Additionally this shows that the Florida Appellate Courts will require trial courts to actually have evidentiary hearings and trials when there are facts in contention between the parties, which is good for citizens.

Contact The Health Law Firm Attorneys Experienced in Administrative Law.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent clients in administrative and civil litigation (both state and federal) throughout the state and in other states as permitted by their rules. We also represent clients in cases involving the Florida Public Records Act, the Sunshine Act, the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act. Our attorneys are available to provide emergency hearing coverage, administrative hearing representation, emergency board representation (Board of Medicine, Board of Dentistry, Board of Nursing, Board of Osteopathic Medicine, Board of Pharmacy, Board of Psychology, Board of Licensed Clinical Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy & Mental Health Counseling and other professional boards), as well as the Agency for Health Care Administration, emergency deposition coverage and other litigation coverage on short notice. Should you need local counsel or just coverage for a hearing or deposition, we are available; contact us.

Source: The original case summary discussed above was originally published in the Administrative Law Section Newsletter, Vol. 34, No. 2 (Dec. 2014), a publication of The Administrative Law Section of the Florida Bar.

 

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 © 1999-2015 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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CMS Extends Waivers under the ACO Shared Savings Program

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

On November 2, 2011, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) promulgated the interim final rule on fraud and abuse waivers for Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) participating in the Medicare Shared Savings Program. The interim rule can be found at 76 Fed. Reg. 67801. The waiver was granted pursuant to the agency’s authority under the Affordable Care Act, specifically, 42 U.S.C. § 1899(f).

You can read our prior blog postings on the ACO waiver programs here.

Normally, interim final rules are only permitted to remain in effect for a maximum of three years (see 69 Fed. Reg. 78422). CMS regulations require the agency to publish a final rule within three years of a proposed or interim final rule. As the interim final rule is set to expire on November 2, 2014, the agency took advantage of the procedure that allows it to extend the life of the rule for an additional year by publishing a notice explaining the reasons why the regular timeline was not met.

Explanation for the Extension.

CMS stated that it is in the process of preparing a final rule, and allowing the interim final rule to expire would create a great deal of legal uncertainty for ACOs currently participating in the Shared Savings Program. According to CMS, this uncertainty has the potential to disrupt ongoing ACO business, plans, and operations.

Ultimately, CMS has learned through the course of its operation of the Shared Savings Program that certain modifications to the program are necessary. Although these modifications are not yet defined completely, CMS nevertheless believed the prudent course of action was to maintain the status quo during the rule making process.

Check back with us for updates on the process and any further information as the final rule is developed.

Comments?

Have you considered joining an ACO? Why or why not? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced With Healthcare Business Practices.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physician groups and practices with issues involving establishing, licensing, selling, merging, and intergroup affiliation. If you are considering establishing an ACO or have been approached to become a participant in one, you can contact The Health Law Firm at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 or you can visit our website at http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author: Lance O. Leider is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://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.

Agency Attorney Prosecuting Case Should Not Also Be in Position of Advising The Agency; Possible Bias Denies Due Process

McAlpin appealed an order of the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission (“Commission”) suspending his law enforcement certification for eighteen months. The Commission filed an administrative complaint alleging misconduct during the course of a criminal investigation. A formal administrative hearing was held and a recommended order was issued.

At the Commission hearing to consider the recommended order, the attorney who prosecuted the case against McAlpin was present and offered advice to the Commission. The Commission’s staff had prepared a memorandum to the Commission recommending an increase in the recommended penalty to revocation of McAlpin’s license. It was not clear who prepared the staff memorandum. However, it was clear the prosecuting attorney had prepared exceptions to the recommended order for the agency.

On appeal, the court reversed and remanded for a new Commission hearing. While the Commission did not ultimately adopt the agency’s recommendation of an increased penalty, the court held that the staff attorney’s enhanced access to the Commission undermined the Commission’s function as an unbiased reviewer of the recommended order.

The court did note that it was not inherently inappropriate to consolidate investigative, prosecutorial and adjudicatory authority in a single agency. Each case must be considered on its unique factual background.

Source:

McAlpin v. Criminal Justice Standards and Training Comm’n, 120 So. 3d 1260 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013)(Opinion filed September 13, 2013).

About the Author: The forgoing 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).

 

MedPAC Wants to Hold Accountable Care Organizations More Accountable

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

As the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) prepares to designate the next class of accountable care organizations (ACOs), the agency sought the advice and input of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) on how to proceed.  MedPAC is an independent Congressional Agency established to advise the U.S. Congress on issues affecting Medicare.

Click here to read our previous blog on the background and purpose of ACOs.

MedPAC Suggests All Medicare Shared Savings Program ACOs Join the Two-Sided Risk Model.

In response to the request from the CMS, MedPAC reiterated its previous position that it would like to see all Medicare ACOs take on greater financial risk.  As it presently stands, some Medicare-contracted ACOs do not share in the risks associated with the ACOs patients’ healthcare costs exceeding certain target ranges.  Even though those ACOs do not bear any financial risk if the goals are not met, they nevertheless stand to benefit if they are.

MedPAC found that the one-sided risk model being used by most Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) ACOs to be insufficient to reach the goals of the MSSP.

Specifically, MedPAC wants to see all MSSP ACOs in the two-sided risk model.  That model requires the ACO to reimburse Medicare for some of the costs which exceeded the target ranges. This pressure is important to note because only 13 of the 32 Pioneer ACOs generated enough savings to Medicare to qualify for MSSP savings payments.

Understand an ACO Agreement Before You Sign.

As we see more and more physicians being approached to join or form ACOs, it is crucial to understand exactly what type of arrangement you are getting into.

Many ACO contracts we see are simply for participation as a provider in the organization.  However, some of the contracts we see require that the physician make a financial investment in the ACO or otherwise require that the physician pay a “pro rata” share of any penalty assessed by CMS.

Current ACO participation and recruiting is something akin to the gold rush of the nineteenth century.  Everyone is rushing to stake a claim in fear of being left out.  Be careful about what kind of an agreement you sign and be sure that you understand the long-term consequences of tying your practice to an as-yet unproven model. To read our previous blog on the first year pioneer ACO results, click here.

If you are approached to join an ACO, or are considering signing a participation agreement/contract with one, make sure to read the contract carefully and consult with an experienced healthcare attorney.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced With Healthcare Business Practices.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physician groups and practices with issues involving establishing, licensing, selling, merging, and intergroup affiliation.  If you are considering establishing an ACO or have been approached to become a participant in one, you can contact The Health Law Firm at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 or you can visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think of MedPAC’s position on ACOs? Have you considered joining an ACO? Why or why not? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

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

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Nurses: Insuring Your Legal Protection

Though many nurses pursue a career in nursing hoping that they will never face disciplinary charges, any number of events not in a nurse’s control can lead to an investigation or administrative action. Nurses need to make sure they are covered if this ever occurs, with appropriate insurance.

The primary reason that a nurse should purchase a professional liability insurance policy is that this type of insurance usually includes coverage for legal defense of licensing and disciplinary action commenced against a nurse.

License defense coverage pays the legal fees and costs associated with defending a nurse when an investigation is initiated that may result in action against her nursing license or disciplinary action against the nurse. Coverage is usually available from the time the nurse receives written notice that an investigation by a state agency has been initiated. It will also cover formal complaints made against the nurse, informal hearings before the Board of Nursing, and formal administrative hearings before an administrative law judge.

Such investigations, complaints, and administrative action may be opened based on events including patient complaints, hotline calls, Code 15 reports, nursing home and home health agency surveys, abuse investigations by the Department of Children and Families (DCF), newspaper articles, copies of lawsuits, and many other sources. It is far more likely that a nurse will be involved in one of these types of actions than being sued for nursing negligence.

Professional liability policies, which provide coverage for licensure defense, will usually provide compensation to the nurse for her out-of-pocket expenses (travel, postage, etc.) that she herself incurs, as well as lost wages because of working time missed for hearings, depositions, etc. However, the maximum coverage available under such policies for licensure defense is usually limited. to between $10,000 and $15,000. This amount will usually be sufficient to provide for most of the legal fees and costs involved in defense of such a case.

Does Vicarious Liability Actually Absolve the Nurse From Liability?

The assumption that vicarious liability or the legal doctrine of respondeat superior protects a nurse against a medical negligence claim is a mistaken one. If the employer provides legal representation, the attorney representing the nurse will almost always be the same attorney representing and being paid by the hospital or employer.

In many circumstances, the nurse may conclude that her interests are contrary to those of the hospital or employer, which could result in the attorney hired by the hospital withdrawing from further representation of the nurse. Additionally, it may be necessary for the nurse to raise evidence showing that the injury was caused by another nurse or hospital employee, in order to defend herself. It is doubtful that an attorney representing the employer or hospital would raise this defense since it would prove liability against the employer hospital.

Many employers will not provide legal representation if the matter involves licensing or disciplinary action against the nurse. This could force the nurse to fund all the fees and costs associated with her defense. However, some larger corporations with good risk management programs will provide the nurse with legal representation for such matters.

If you are an agency nurse, a home health agency nurse, a nursing home nurse, an independent duty nurse, or you are not employed by a large hospital chain, then you should consider nursing liability insurance mandatory. It appears that complaints of negligence against nurses working in these positions are far more likely. This may be because of the high turnover of nurses in some types of healthcare facilities (such as nursing homes), or because the nurse is no longer employed at the facility when the investigation begins (for example, in the case of an agency nurse). Additionally, agency nurses may only work in facility for a short period of time making them less familiar with the facility’s policies and procedures, and not a part of the permanent team of nurses who may have established relationships with each other and are more likely to cover for each other.

As previously mentioned, a number of different proceedings may be covered by the licensure defense coverage provided in professional liability insurance. These proceedings may include an investigation by the Department of Health based on a patient complaint or Code 15 report; an abuse investigation (abuse of a child, abuse of a developmentally disabled or vulnerable person, or abuse of an elderly person) by the Department of Children and Families (DCF); allegations of nursing negligence or abuse being investigated by a state “surveyor” by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA); an investigation into allegations of Medicaid over-billing or fraud; an investigation by the Agency for Health Care Administration or on the Attorney General’s State-wide Medicaid Task Force; and allegations of improper Medicare billing or fraud.

A nurse might be involved in a Medicaid fraud investigation, for example, in the case of an Advance Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP), Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) or Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) who has her own provider identification number and is allowed to bill as part of a group practice or independently. This might also occur, for example, in the case of a nurse working for a home health agency which receives its reimbursement for the nurse’s services from Medicare or Medicaid.

Cost of Professional Liability Coverage is Minimal

Nurses can purchase liability coverage rather inexpensively. For example, an excellent insurance policy providing coverage for nurses is available through the Nurses Service Organization (N.S.O.) for less than $100 per year. Professional liability coverage provided by this type of insurance represents a bargain at these rates.

Focusing on Protecting the Nurse’s Individual Interests

Perhaps most importantly, the nurse should have an attorney focusing on her interests only in defending her against any type of negligence or licensing complaint. A nurse with her own professional liability insurance coverage will be able to hire a separate, independent attorney, and often the insurer will allow her to pick her own attorney.

Important Considerations When Purchasing Liability Protection

When deciding on which professional liability insurance to purchase, the nurse should inquire as to the extent of coverage for licensing in disciplinary defense coverage. Some professional liability insurers have a “broad form” of coverage which may provide legal defense for the nurse in almost any type of administrative action. This might include, for example, defense of a discrimination complaint filed against the nurse with the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and for Medicare and Medicaid complaints. Other companies limit coverage to only actions that may result in disciplinary action against the nurse’s license. The nurse should always attempt to get the broadest coverage available for disciplinary defense and licensure defense coverage.

Additionally, the nurse should inquire as to whether or not she will be allowed to select her own attorney. Many insurance companies have contracts with certain law firms to provide legal services on their cases for a reduced fee. The insurance company may require you to use one of its own contracted attorneys, or even one of its in-house attorneys which it employs directly. Given the limited number of attorneys with experience at handling nursing law issues and trying malpractice cases, the nurse should attempt to obtain coverage through a company which allows her to choose her own attorney.

The most important reason to purchase professional liability insurance is for the licensure defense coverage. A nurse does not want to risk losing her nursing license because she was unsuccessful at defending an investigation against her license or did not have the resources to do so. Since there are far more complaints filed each year against nurses’ licenses than here are nursing malpractice lawsuits, it is far more likely that a working nurse will need legal defense of a licensure complaint investigation.

For more information about the legal needs of nurses visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.