Tag Archives: OIG special agents

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.

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Federal Jury Convicts South Florida Doctors of Medicare Fraud

 

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

Two South Florida doctors, one Miami-area therapist, and two other individuals were convicted by a federal jury for their participation in a Medicare fraud scheme. The scheme allegedly involved more than $205 million in fraudulent billings by American Therapeutic Corporation (ATC), a corporation which provided mental health care services. The jury reached a decision on June 1, 2012. To see the Department of Justice press release, click here.

The two doctors and the therapist were each found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. The other two individuals were each found guilty of one count of health care kickbacks. Sentencing has not yet been scheduled. The maximum penalty for each conspiracy count and each count of health care fraud is ten years in prison plus a fine. The maximum penalty for each count of health care kickbacks is five years in prison plus a fine.

Doctors, Therapist, and Others Allegedly Created False Documents for Medicare Reimbursements.

One of the federal indictments charged more than 14 separate defendants with criminal violations. To see this indictment click here.

Allegedly, ATC billed Medicare for hundreds of millions of dollars in services, for thousands of patients who were not qualified. The charges alleged fraudulent documents were created by the doctors and others associated with ATC. The doctors allegedly would sign patient documents without having seen or treated the patients.

ATC operated partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) throughout Florida and would allegedly bill Medicare for PHP treatments for patients in the names of the doctors. Included in these submissions to Medicare were claims for patients who were allegedly ineligible for PHP treatments. ATC allegedly did not provide legitimate PHP treatment, but illegally changed patient medical records to justify claims that were submitted.

ATC Executive Sentenced to 50 Years in Prison.

Since ATC was shut down nearly two years ago, 35 defendants have faced charges relating to the alleged fraud scheme. The majority of the defendants have pleaded guilty. Last year a third doctor pleaded guilty, accepting responsibility for more than $19 million of false claims submitted by the clinics.

Four ATC executives were sentenced to 50 years, 35 years, 35 years, and 91 months in prison, respectively, for their roles in the fraud scheme.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Medicare and Medicaid Fraud Cases.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent physicians, medical groups, clinics, pharmacies, durable medical equipment (DME) suppliers, home health agencies, nursing homes and other healthcare providers in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits and recovery actions. They also represent them in preparing and submitting corrective action plans (CAPs), requests for reconsideration, and appeal hearings, including Medicare administrative hearings before an administrative law judge.

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:

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs. “Doctors, Therapist, and Recruiters from Miami-Area Mental Health Care Corporation Convicted for Participating in $205 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme.” FBI. (June 01, 2012). Press Release. From:
http://www.fbi.gov/miami/press-releases/2012/doctors-therapist-and-recruiters-from-miami-area-mental-health-care-corporation-convicted-for-participating-in-205-million-medicare-fraud-scheme

Weaver, Jay. “Two South Florida Doctors, 3 Others Convicted on Medicare Fraud Charge.” Miami Herald. (June 01, 2012). From
http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/06/01/2827660/miami-medicare-fraud-jurors-tell.html#storylink=misearch/

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.

In Florida You Have Fifth Amendment Rights in a Department of Health Investigation of Your License

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

If you are contacted by a Florida Department of Health investigator, did you know that you are not required to make a statement or give any information that can be used against you?  If you are being investigated you have a right to refuse to speak with an investigator pursuant to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the equivalent rights given by the Florida Constitution, Article 1, Section 9.  However, because the Miranda decision does not apply to administrative proceedings, including licensure investigations, the DOH investigator does not have to inform you of this.

In some states other than Florida, the state’s law is such that a nurse, physician, dentist or other licensed health care professional is required to “cooperate” with the investigation, even though he or she may be punished or lose their license as a result.  THIS IS NOT THE CASE IN FLORIDA.

Florida Licensing Investigations Are Considered to Be “Penal” or “Quasi-criminal” in Nature.

Florida licensing investigations are considered to be “penal” or “quasi-criminal” in nature.  In Florida, a professional’s license is considered to be a property right.  So you also have the constitutional right not to be deprived of it without due process of law.  Due Process of law is guaranteed not only by the Florida and U.S. constitutional provisions cited above, but also by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. ConstitutionDue process of law includes the right to be represented by an attorney in any proceedings that might be initiated that may result in your losing your license.

In Florida, a long history of legal cases has resulted in the common law rule that administrative proceedings that may result in loss of a license must afford all of the protections that a criminal defendant would have in a criminal case.

Case Law in Florida.

In a 2004 case involving the Florida Department of Health, the Florida First District Court of Appeal stated:

Initially, it should not be forgotten that because professional disciplinary statutes are penal in nature, they must be strictly construed with any ambiguity interpreted in favor of the licensee. See Ocampo v. Dep’t of Health, 806 So. 2d 633, 634 (Fla. 1st DCA 2002);  Elmariah v. Dep’t of Prof. Reg., Board of Med., 574 So. 2d 164 (Fla. 1st DCA 1990).

Cone v. Dep’t of Health, 886 So. 2d 1007, 1011 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004).

The Florida Supreme Court confirmed that a licensee could assert a Fifth Amendment right in administrative proceedings in the 1973 case of State ex rel. Vining v. Florida Real Estate Commission, 281 So.2d 487 (1973).

In Vining a real estate broker was charged by the Florida Real Estate Commission of violating the Real Estate License Law.  Id. at 488.  The broker filed a sworn answer, as he was required to do under Florida Statute Section 475.30(1).  Id.  The broker later argued that the Florida statute violated his right against self-incrimination as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 9 of the Florida Constitution.  Id.

The Florida Supreme Court agreed, holding that “the right to remain silent applies not only to the traditional criminal case, but also to proceedings ‘penal’ in nature in that they tend to degrade the individual’s professional standing, professional reputation or livelihood.”  Id. at 491 (citing Spevack v. Klein, 385 U.S. 511, 87 S.Ct. 625, 17 L.Ed.2d 574 (1967);  Stockham v. Stockham, 168 So. 2d 320 (Fla. 1964)).  More recently, courts have reaffirmed that Vining remains good law in Florida.  See Best Pool & Spa Service Co., Inc. v. Romanik, 622 So. 2d 65, 66 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993);  Scott v. Department of Professional Regulation, 603 So. 2d 519, 520 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992).

In Best Pool & Spa Service Co., Inc. v. Romanik, 622 So. 2d 65, 66 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993), for example, the Court of Appeal reiterated the ability of a defendant to claim the Fifth Amendment privilege in an administrative proceeding.  Best Pool involved a pool owner filing actions for negligence and breach of contract against a pool maintenance contractor and its president.  The circuit court required the president to answer questions at his deposition about his certifying to the county, in an application for license, that the contractor had liability insurance.  The Court of Appeal ruled that the president was allowed to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege with regard to questions on this issue.  The court stated in Best Pool: “requiring Kassover, the president, to answer these questions does violate his right against self incrimination, which applies not only to criminal matters but also administrative proceedings such as licensing.  Id. at 66.

There are many other cases which have held the same.

You Must Be Extremely Cautious When Dealing with a DOH Investigator or Any Investigator.

If you receive notice that a DOH disciplinary investigation has been opened against you, you may not even realize it or understand how serious the consequences may be.  The notice comes in the form of a simple letter or, more often nowadays, a phone call, followed by a letter.  The letter will be on Florida Department of Health letterhead and will, in most cases,  be signed by a person whose job title is “Medical Malpractice Investigator,” “Quality Assurance Investigator” or some other title that might throw you off.

If you think you are giving information to be used in connection with a true quality assurance matter, such as would be confidential and privileged in a hospital or health institution, think again.  This is an investigation that could result in your having to pay thousands of dollars in fines, thousands of dollars in investigative costs and suspension or loss of your license.  Worse yet are the other consequences that having discipline on your professional license will bring, including difficulty in obtaining employment, reports being made to national data banks, etc.  Please see some of the other articles we have on our blog and on our website about all of the unforeseen consequences of discipline on your license.

Have You Been Told the Investigation Is Not Aimed at You?  Watch Out!

Even if the investigator attempts to ensure you that the investigation is not aimed at you, watch out!  It may not be aimed at you today, but it may be aimed at you tomorrow.  Additionally, even if the particular investigation that you are being questioned about is not directed against you, there may be another investigation that has been opened against you.  Your statement can and will be sued against you in that other investigation.

I was told by a DOH investigator one time that my clients (who were a director of nursing (DON), assistant director of nursing (ADON), an administrator and a medical director) were not being investigated, but that another health professional was.  My clients cooperated and gave statements for use in the investigation of the other person.  A short time later, additional investigations were opened against all of them, too.  Fortunately we eventually had all of the charges against all of them dismissed.  But I have not trusted investigators since then.

Don’t Wait Until it is Too Late; Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Representing Health Professionals Now.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm routinely represent nurses, ARNPs, CRNAs, physicians, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists, mental health counselors, social workers, massage therapists, medical groups, clinics, pharmacists, pharmacies, home health agencies, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other healthcare providers in licensing investigations, regulatory matters, in board actions and in administrative hearings.  Call now at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 or visit our website 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.  This article is for informational purposes only; it is not legal advice.

Update All of Your Addresses with Medicare Immediately!

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

Have You Checked Your Addresses on File with CMS/Medicare Recently?

Do you remember the last time you checked all four of the addresses you should have on file for any individual or any group/company Medicare number you may have?  The consequences of not updating these addresses can be severe.  In addition to your mailing (or correspondence address), and your billing address, you also should have a physical address that is complete, accurate and timely.  The telephone number for that physical address should also be in the system.  You must ensure that not only is the street address accurate, but also that any suite, office or apartment number on it is accurate.  Check the zip code, too, just to be certain you did not transpose digits when you entered it.

Auditors, surveyors, inspectors and investigators are often sent out by Medicare and its contractors, including the Medicare Administrative Contractors (or “MACs”) and the Zone Program Integrity Contractors (or “ZPICs”), to the physical address on file.  This is done as a fraud prevention tool to make sure that medical practices, durable medical equipment companies (DMEs), home health agencies (HHAs), and other businesses that receive payments from Medicare are legitimate and are actually operating.

Termination of Medicare Billing Privileges Often Results From Incorrect Addresses.

Site inspections and audits are also conducted by sending auditors on short notice or no notice to the physical address on file.  If your physical address is incomplete (e.g., no suite number) or wrong (e.g., incorrect street address) or is not up to date (e.g., you moved and forgot to update it), the consequences could be severe.  What we have seen most often recently is an action that terminates the Medicare billing privileges.  The provider then is not allowed to reapply for a period of two (2) years from the date of termination.

Update All of Your Addresses with Medicare Immediately.

I urge you to personally and immediately go into the Medicare Provider Enrollment, Chain and Ownership System (PECOS) and the National Plan & Provider Enumeration System (NPPES) NPI Registry and print out a copy of the existing information to check it.  If your address is incorrect or incomplete, immediately submit a correction or have your administrator practice manager do this.

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

What to Do if You Receive a Notice of Termination of Your Medicare Provider Number.

Have you received a notice of termination of your Medicare provider number? Medicare has been revoking the Medicare billing privileges of many different Medicare providers including physicians, medical groups, home health agencies (HHAs), pharmacies, and durable medical equipment (DME) providers, based on returned mail sent to old addresses which have not been updated or based on inspection team site visits to old, incorrect addresses.

Often the termination is retroactive to an earlier date when the change or move may have been determined to have occurred. Even if the mailing address is correct or was changed, the physical address of the business must have been updated, as well. It is usually an incorrect or old physical address which causes this to occur.

The effect of this termination includes:

1. You are prohibited from reapplying to Medicare for at least two (2) years.

2. You may have to pay back any monies received from the Medicare Program since the effective date of the termination (often many months prior to the notification letter).

3. Other auditing agents may be notified such as the Medicare Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPIC) and the state Medicare Fraud Control Unit (MFCU).

4. You may no longer contract with Medicare or anyone who does.

5. You may and probably will be terminated from the approved provider panels of health insurance companies with which you are currently contracted.

6. You may and probably will be terminated from skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) and home health agencies (HHAs) with which you have contracts.

7. You may and probably will have your clinical privileges terminated by hospitals or ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs) where you have them.

What you should not do includes:

1. Don’t bother to write letters or start e-mailing anyone, including CMS or the Medicare Administrative Contractor (or MAC) (previously called the “carrier” or “fiscal intermediary”).

2. Don’t bother to call the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) or the MAC.

3. Don’t bother to file a new CMS Form 855 (application) or a CMS Form 855C (change).

4. Don’t bother to start communicating with CMS or the MAC about your situation and what you need to do about it.

5. Don’t bother to complete and file the short, one-page Corrective Action Plan (CAP) form that is on the CMS or Carrier/MAC website (unless you are close to the deadline and don’t have representation; then you must.)

What we recommend is:

1. Immediately go into the Medicare Provider Enrollment, Chain and Ownership System (PECOS) and the National Plan & Provider Enumeration System (NPPES) NPI Registry and print out a copy of the existing information. Then update or correct any incorrect information on you or your company, if you can. Print out the information as it existed before and print out the information after you have corrected it. (Note: Medicare will act shortly after the letter to you to terminate your access to this, so it may be too late).

2. Hire an experienced health attorney immediately to assist you in putting together and submitting a comprehensive Corrective Action Plan (CAP), a Request for Reconsideration (RFR) and a request for an Appeal Hearing.

3. Note that there is a thirty (30) day deadline for submitting the CAP and a sixty (60) day deadline for requesting an appeal hearing. Do not miss these.

4. Implement formal, written internal policies and procedures to prevent a recurrence of the type of error, oversight or event that caused the termination.  Train your management and staff on these.

The CAP should address every element of the applicable conditions of participation (COP) contained in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). It should include and be supported by all relevant documents, including but not limited to:

1. Documents showing how the error occurred or past efforts to comply.

2. Surety bond guarantees and documents (where required).

3. Insurance coverage documents showing current coverage (general liability, professional liability, vehicle/auto liability).

4. Current licenses and permits.

5. Certificates of good standing and latest annual reports for any corporation or limited liability company.

6. Print-outs from PECOS/NPPES Registry discussed above.

7. Accident reports, insurance claims, police reports, fire reports or other documentation showing why a relocation was required (if this was an issue).

8. Certificates of compliance training for you and your staff, if available.

9. Copies of policies and procedures that you have adopted to keep there from being a recurrence of the situation that led to the termination.

10. An authorization form for your consultant or attorney to represent you in the matter.

All copies should be clear, legible, complete, straight, no corners cut off and no handwriting on them, to the greatest extent possible.

Organize, Label and Index Professionally.

Everything should be professionally assembled, typed, indexed and labeled. It should include a table of contents or an index. Number every page. It should be submitted to the MAC (or the agency/address given in the termination letter) by two (2) reliable means that document both sending and receipt. Keep copies of everything, including postal receipts, airbills, Federal Express labels, courier receipts, etc. It must be received at the address given in the termination letter you received (usually MAC) by the deadline given above. Keep copies of online tracking reports and return receipts.

In most instances, should you show a legitimate reason for the error, show you are currently in compliance, and show what remedial measures you have taken to keep there from being a repeat, the MAC will accept your corrective action plan (CAP) and will reinstate your Medicare number, as things stand currently.

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

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

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

About the 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 this article is for general education and information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or solicitation for clients.  Our opinions stated herein are just that, our opinion.