Tag Archives: psychologists

You Must Challenge Overpayment Demands from Medicare and Medicaid Audits

6 Indest-2008-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

We have recently received numerous communications from health care professionals, including physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, mental health counselors, durable medical equipment (DME) providers, assisted living facilities (ALFs), group homes, and psychologists, who have been placed on prepayment review after failing to challenge Medicare or Medicaid audit results. The problem is that these providers, once placed on prepayment review, have their payments held up for many months and are often forced out of business. Sometimes it appears that this may actually be the goal of the auditing contractor or agency.

What Happens on Prepayment Review.

Failing to challenge, follow-up on, and appeal any adverse audit determinations can be very detrimental. An error rate in excess of fifteen percent (15%) will usually result in the provider being placed on prepayment review. While on prepayment review, the provider will be required to submit the documentation for medical records by mail to support each claim submitted and have that claim and its supporting medical records’ documentation audited, prior to any claims being paid. Often the auditing agency will come back to the provider again and again to demand additional information and documentation on claims instead of immediately processing them. This can hold up processing of the claim for months. Often the resulting termination of income flow will force the provider out of business. This saves the government lots of money, because the provider has then provided services to Medicare or Medicaid recipients for many months without ever getting paid for it.

These are some of the reasons why we recommend that physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, podiatrists, optometrists, psychologists, mental health counselors, respiratory therapists, and others always hire the Board Certified Health Law Attorney experienced in audits from the very beginning.

A Real-Life Example of the Trouble Caused by a Medicare Audit.

In one case we know of, a therapist was audited by Medicare. The audit by the Medicare administrative contractor (MAC) requested only 30 records. The therapist provided copies of the records he thought the auditors wanted. He did not number the pages or keep an exact copy of what he provided. The MAC came back and denied one percent (1%) of the claims audited. However, since the amount demanded back by the MAC was only a few thousand dollars, the therapist never hired an attorney and never challenged the results. Instead of retaining legal counsel and appealing the results, the therapist paid the entire amount, thinking that was the easy way out.

Unfortunately, because of the high error rate, the MAC immediately placed the therapist on prepayment review of all claims, assuming the prior audit had disclosed fraud or intentional false coding. Every claim the provider submitted from that point on had to be submitted on paper with supporting medical records sent in by mail. The MAC refused to make a decision on any of the claims, instead, holding them and requesting additional documentation and information from time to time. The therapist currently has most of his claims tied up in prepayment review, some for as long as five months with no decision. No decision means no review or appeal rights.

The therapist conveyed to me that he recently contacted the auditor to attempt to obtain decisions on some of his claims so that he could at least begin the appeal process if the claims are denied. He advised me that the auditor at the MAC expressed surprise that he was still in business.

Challenge Improperly Denied or Reduced Claims.

These situations are very unfair and unjust, especially to smaller health care providers. The reduced cash flow even for a month or two may be enough to drive some small providers out of business. Larger health care providers have vast resources sufficient to handle such audit situations on a routine basis. They may have similar problems but are better equipped and have more resources to promptly handle it. Rather than immediately pay whatever amount is demanded on an audit and waive any appeal/review rights, the provider should review each claim denied or reduced and challenge the ones that have been improperly denied or reduced. Otherwise you may wind up with a high error rate which will cause you to be placed into prepayment review. Once placed in prepayment review, it is difficult to get out of it. Often it takes six months or longer.

Don’t Get Caught Up in the Audit Cycle.

Another reason to challenge overpayment demands as a result of an audit is because the audit contractors will keep you on an audit cycle for a number of future audits if they are successful in obtaining any sort of significant recovery from you on the initial audit. This is similar to what happens if your tax return is audited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recovers a significant payment from you because you did not have the documentation to support your deductions, you can expect to be audited for at least the next two years.

The value of competent legal representation at the beginning of an audit cannot be overestimated. It is usually long after the audit is over, and the time to appeal the audit agency’s findings has passed, that the health care provider realizes he should have retained an audit consultation.

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


The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S. They also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.

For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Comments?

Have you ever been audited? What was the process like? Did you retain legal counsel to help with the process? Was having legal assistance worth it? 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.

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Occupational Therapists, Podiatrists, Psychologists and Optometrists Being Scrutinized in Medicare Audits

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

Our firm has recently seen an increase in the number of occupational therapists (OTs), speech therapists (STs), podiatrists, psychologists, optometrists and other licensed health professionals being scrutinized in Medicare audits and recovery actions. Often these result from claims submitted for evaluation or treatment entered in nursing homes or assisted living facilities (ALFs).

You Must Provide Complete and Detailed Documentation of Care Rendered.

In many cases, the provider may not have complete documentation of the care rendered because it has been placed in the patient’s record at the facility. Unfortunately, Medicare does not see this as an excuse to provide copies of all relevant medical records in support of claims during an audit. The provider must still obtain the records and forward them to the auditor. Failure to do so will result in a complete disallowance of claims for treatment or services.

Other Problems with Fort Comings in Documentations.


Other problems we have seen with forth comings in documentation that has resulted in claims denial include:

1. Failing to have a physician’s order, prescription or referral specifically requesting the services indicated,

2. Failing to have a legible signature from a doctor ordering such services, or the physician’s typed/printed name with the letters “M.D.” or “D.O.” after the name,

3. Lack of proof of medical necessity for the services rendered,

4. Illegible medical records or illegible medical records entries,

5. Failure to have a start time and stop time for services that are billed based on the amount of time spent with the patient,

6. Failure to have the signature (electronic or manual) of the individual health professional delivering the services on the health records documenting the delivery of those services.

Such deficiencies are easy for health professionals to avoid at the time of the delivery of services. Some of these may be corrected before the documents are produced in response to an audit request. However, after the documents have been provided as a response to an audit request, it may be too late to do anything about these document deficiencies.

Obtain Representation Early.

A health law attorney experienced in Medicare and Medicaid audits can save a provider tens of thousands of dollars in claims and overpayments being reimbursed to payers. Obtain representation at the earliest possible time.

Check Your Professional Liability Insurance Policy.

Many professional liability insurance policies will pay for the cost of legal representation in a Medicare or Medicaid audit. If your insurance company does not offer this benefit, you may purchase separate insurance coverage which does provide this benefit for only a small premium. Ask your insurance agent for information on this type of coverage. After you need it, it will be too late to purchase it. This mistake could put you out of business and negatively affect your professional license.

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

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S. They also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.
For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

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.

 

New Professional Liability Insurance Benefits for Health Professionals

2 Indest-2009-1By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

I have been pleasantly surprised recently to discover that several professional liability insurance companies have raised their coverage amounts and added coverage in areas sorely needed by health professionals.  I’m referring to coverage for incidents not necessarily related to malpractice or professional liability.

I do note that Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO) Insurance has increased its basic policy limits from a cap of $3,000,000 in the aggregate per year to $5,000,000 aggregate per year for counselors on professional liability coverage.

However, we have always maintained that the most important coverage for any licensed health professional is professional licensure legal defense coverage.  This is probably the most used type of coverage and the most beneficial for a health professional.

HPSO Insurance and Nurses Service Organization (NSO) Insurance, as well as several other insurers now provide up to $25,000 coverage.  If an employer whether it’s a hospital, nursing home, assisted living facility (ALF), home health agency (HHA), medical group or public health clinic or a patient complains about you to the state Department of Health (DOH) or state licensing authority, you could face investigation and hearings that would cost you tens of thousands of dollars to have properly defended by an experienced attorney.  If you don’t have the funds to pay for this, you could be forced to accept discipline on your license which could result in a number of unexpected additional adverse actions against you.

Although I would prefer to see this coverage increased to $50,000, and there are several companies that provide this much in coverage, $25,000 will go a long way toward defending you against meritless or unprovable complaints.

New HPSO Insurance and NSO Coverages.

Representation During a Deposition – A patient is injured at the facility where you work. You are not named in the lawsuit, but you receive a subpoena for testimony. Your coverage through HPSO Insurance will pay up to $10,000 per deposition with a $10,000 annual aggregate for you to be represented at the deposition by an attorney.

Information Privacy Coverage (added upon request) – People today are very conscious about their privacy. Most are aware of the protection they receive under the new Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws. This optional endorsement extends your coverage to pay for HIPAA fines and penalties arising from a HIPAA proceeding, subject to a $25,000 aggregate limit.

Sexual Misconduct – In the past, while your coverage through HPSO Insurance would pay to defend you against allegations of sexual misconduct related to your professional services, there was no coverage for a settlement. This new endorsement provides you with a $25,000 aggregate sublimit for covered sexual misconduct claims.

Reimbursement for Rendering First Aid – This benefit provides reimbursement up to $10,000 for expenses you incur while rendering first aid to a person other than yourself. For example, this could include supplies from your personal first aid kit that you used to help a victim of an automobile accident.

Accidental Injury to Others – If someone was hurt by something like a slip and fall at your residence or your workplace and required medical attention, they can receive reimbursement for their expenses up to $10,000 per incident with a $100,000 annual aggregate. It must be an accidental injury, not a medical incident.

Service to Animals (added for pharmacists, physical therapists (PTs), massage therapists and counselors) – In the course of providing professional services to an animal, if they are injured and the owner files suit, the new service to animals endorsement provides $25,000 aggregate coverage. (Added upon request for all others.)

Accidental Damage to Others’ Property – While you are providing care at a patient’s home what if you accidentally break something? No worries. Your policy pays for unintentional damage you cause to someone else’s property while at your personal residence or workplace. This coverage provides up to $10,000 per incident with a $10,000 aggregate.

Other Coverages Added to Professional Liability Insurance Policies.

In addition to the coverages I have discussed above, there have been some other coverages added to many professional liability insurance policies that could pay off for damages or injuries the individual health professional incurs, as well.

Workplace Violence Counseling – While your assault coverage pays for the medical expenses resulting from an attack, this new endorsement broadens your coverage to include $25,000 aggregate limits for the payment of any emotional counseling needed as a result of a covered incident.

Coverage If You are Assaulted – Violence in the workplace is a sad reality. Should you be the victim of a violent action at work or on your way to or from work, this coverage will pay up to $25,000 per incident with a $25,000 aggregate for medical expenses you incur or for damage to your personal belongings.

Reimbursement for Defendant Expenses – Regardless of its outcome, a malpractice suit will likely cost you money and could mean thousands of dollars out of your pocket. Your policy through HPSO Insurance will reimburse you up to $1,000 per day, up to $25,000 aggregate for lost wages, travel and other covered expenses.

Business Owner Coverage Extension (added upon request) – The ‘named insured’ on a policy for a healthcare firm is typically the business name. If the business owner volunteers or moonlights there is always the chance they could be named in a malpractice suit under their individual name. This new extension provides protection for the owner if sued under their personal name.

HPSO Insurance Also Provides Coverage For:

   Students (Health Professional Students)
   Counselors
   Interns (Health Professional Interns)
   Physician Extenders
   Physicians
   Fitness Professionals
   Integrated Health Practitioners
   Massage Therapists
   Nurse Practitioners
   Occupational Therapists
   Pharmacists
   Physical Therapists (PTs)
   Physician Assistants (PAs)
   Radiologist Assistants
   Radiology Practitioner Assistants
   Social Workers
Healthcare Businesses:

   Assisted Living Facilities (ALFs)
   Nurse Registries
   Home Health Agencies (HHAs)
   Pharmacies
   Physical Therapy Practices
   Occupational Therapy Practices
   Outpatient Therapy Clinics

There is no time like the present, when you have the funds and can afford it, to purchase professional liability insurance.  It is surprisingly inexpensive.  Every professional should carry it.  If you don’t buy it before you need it, when you do really need it, it will be too late.

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

Our firm regularly represents physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, massage therapists, mental health counselors, registered nurses (RNs), assisted living facilities (ALFs), home health agencies (HHAs), nurse practitioners, lab technicians, occupational therapists, physical therapists (PTs), social workers, physician assistants, psychologists and other health professionals in many different legal matters.

Services we provide include representation before your professional board in DOH investigations, in administrative hearings, in civil litigation, in defense of malpractice claims, in professional licensing matters, in defense of allegations concerning HIPAA privacy violations and medical record breaches, in Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) actions, and in many other matters.

In cases in which the health care professional has professional liability insurance or general liability insurance which provides coverage for such matters, we will seek to obtain coverage by your insurance company and will attempt to have your legal fees and expenses covered by your insurance company.  If allowed, we will agree to take an assignment of your insurance policy proceeds in order to be able to submit our bills directly to your insurance company.

We also defend health professionals and health facilities in general litigation matters and business litigation matters.

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.

Locating a Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO) Insurance Defense Attorney in Florida

Patricia's Photos 013By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

We are sometimes told by the health professionals we represent especially pharmacists, licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs), advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs), massage therapists and physical therapists that after they received a complaint regarding their license from the Florida Department of Health (DOH) they had difficulty finding an experienced attorney in Florida who would accept their professional liability insurance.  In this case, I am speaking specifically about Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO) Insurance.

Benefits of HPSO Insurance.

The professionals who are covered by HPSO Insurance have excellent insurance coverage.  HPSO Insurance provides professional liability coverage that protects in the event of a lawsuit or negligence claim.  But much more often the professional receives a notice of an investigation, a subpoena for a deposition in someone else’s case, a demand because of an allegation of sexual harassment or sexual impropriety, a complaint because of a breach of medical records confidentiality or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy complaint, or some other administrative type of action.

HPSO provides great coverage for these.  For example, HPSO currently reimburses up to $10,000 in legal fees and expenses just for representation of you at depositions.  HPSO currently reimburses up to $25,000 in legal fees and expenses for your defense in a DOH or Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) notice of investigation or complaint.  HPSO currently reimburses up to $25,000 in legal fees and expenses for your legal representation in defense of a complaint or investigation regarding breach of medical confidentiality.

If you are a pharmacist, own a pharmacy, are a massage therapist, own an assisted living facility (ALF), are a mental health counselor or a social worker, or you are one of the many other types of health care professionals who HPSO insures, it should be fairly easy to find experienced health lawyers to represent you, especially in Florida.

Our firm and our attorneys, including George F. Indest III, Michael L. Smith, Joanne Kenna, Carole C. Schriefer, Lance O. Leider, Christopher E. Brown and Danielle M. Murray, routinely represent licensed health care professionals, interns and students in all types of administrative investigations and hearings and in defending lawsuits and other actions that have been filed.  We also represent health facilities in license defense, survey complaints and administrative hearings.  We represent them throughout Florida, from Pensacola, to Jacksonville, to Key West.  We also occasionally represent them in other states, as well.  We accept HPSO Insurance assignments.

Free Legal Advice: Get Insurance Immediately.

It is very important for every health professional to carry insurance that covers any investigation, complaint or administrative hearing that might be filed or opened against your license.  You may think that you are covered for this by your employer, but you are not.  If your employer contradicts this, ask for a statement in writing that your employer will pay for your legal defense for any such matter arising during your employment.

What typically happens, especially in the case of a hospital employee, nursing home employee, pharmacy employee or corporate employee, is that the employer is the one who terminates the employee and then files a complaint with the DOH.  The DOH then opens an investigation against the health professional.  The employer is not going to pay your legal defense costs if the employer has reported you.

You may very well be out of work, out of money and face an investigation and complaint that could terminate your professional license and career.  You should not take this chance.  Insurance such as HPSO Insurance is inexpensive and reliable.  Buy it while you can afford it. After the actions have occurred, it is too late.

Find an Experience Health Law Attorney in the Event of an Investigation.

Also, you should immediately contact an experienced health law attorney if you are telephoned or visited by any investigator, or if you receive a letter advising you that an investigation has been opened regarding your care.  Call immediately for advice before you speak with an investigator or provide any documents or statements of any kind.

You cannot and should not seek “legal advice” on what to do from the investigator, from a DOH employee, from your professional board or from any attorney representing any of them.  They are not your friends.  They are on the side against you. You should definitely not take any advice from them.

Do Not Skimp on Insurance Coverage.

If you have good insurance, it will pay for your legal expenses from the very beginning, so use it.  However, beware of cheap insurance policies from professional associations that do not provide any coverage for disciplinary complaints and licensure investigations.  Always check to be sure this is covered.  Get it in writing.  With some companies you have to pay an extra premium to obtain this coverage.  With some insurers, they do not offer it, and you have to purchase a completely separate policy covering just this.  It is worth it!  Do it!

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

Our firm regularly represents pharmacists, massage therapists, mental health counselors, registered nurses, assisted living facilities, home health agencies, nurse practitioners, lab technicians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, social workers, physician assistants, psychologists and other health professionals in many different legal matters.

Services we provide include representation before your professional board, in DOH investigations, in administrative hearings, in civil litigation, in defense of malpractice claims, in professional licensing matters, in defense of allegations concerning HIPAA privacy violations and medical record breaches, in Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) actions, and in many other matters.

We routinely represent physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, and others in defending against malpractice claims, civil lawsuits, administrative complaints, peer review actions, DOH investigations, Medicare audits, Medicaid audits, and other matters. In cases in which the health care professional has professional liability insurance or general liability insurance which provides coverage for such matters, we will seek to obtain coverage by your insurance company and will attempt to have your legal fees and expenses covered by your insurance company.  If allowed, we will agree to take an assignment of your insurance policy proceeds in order to be able to submit our bills directly to your insurance company.

We also defend health professionals and health facilities in general litigation matters and business litigation matters.

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 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.

The Collateral Effects of Voluntary Relinquishment with Investigation Pending or other Discipline on Your Massage Therapy License

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

Many massage therapists are unaware of the drastic long-term effects that discipline on their massage therapist license could have. This includes submitting a voluntary relinquishment of the massage therapist’s license while there is an investigation pending or while there are charges pending. Although this particular article is being prepared specifically for massage therapists, similar principles apply to physicians, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, dentists, mental health counselors and other licensed health professionals.

A voluntary relinquishment of the license after notice of the opening of an investigation or while a charge is pending is treated the same as a disciplinary revocation of the license. It is reported out the same and is treated the same. In some cases it may even be worse, if the agreement to voluntarily relinquish also includes an agreement to never apply for another license again.

Even discipline on the massage therapy license such as a suspension, probation, restrictions, etc., can have far-lasting adverse repercussions. Most people do not understand what else can happen as a result of a discipline, revocation or even voluntary relinquishment (under these circumstances).

Reports to National Organizations on the Discipline.

First and foremost, the discipline (including voluntary relinquishment) will be a public record. It will also be reported out to national reporting agencies, including the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB).

As a result of the report to the NPDB, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will probably start action to exclude the disciplined therapist from the Medicare Program and place him or her on the OIG’s List of Excluded Individual’s and Entities (LEIE). This will bar you from the Medicare Program or working for or contracting with anyone else who does (including insurer’s medical clinics and most health care providers). This by itself will also have many negative consequences. For example, if you are excluded from the Medicare Program you are automatically placed on the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) “debarred” list. You are automatically excluded from working for or contracting with, in any capacity, any organization, individual or agency that has any government contracts or accepts any federal funding. This act can bar you from working for a public school, working as a real estate agent, or many other jobs.

The NCBTMB will also take action to revoke your national certification given by the NCBTMB. This will exclude you from being licensed in any other state.

Summary of Adverse Consequences of Revocation or Other Discipline.

To summarize, the most important adverse problems that may be caused as a result of discipline on your license, may include the following:

1. May cause discipline to be commenced against any other health professional license you have, such as a nurse, acupuncture physician, chiropractic assistant, nurse’s aide, home health assistant, etc.

2. Will prevent you from obtaining any health professional license in the future.

3. May cause discipline to be commenced against any massage therapy establishment license for a massage therapy establishment you own in whole or in part.

4. Any other states or jurisdictions in which you have a license will also initiate action against him or her in that jurisdiction.

5. The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) will also take action to revoke your national certification given by the NCBTMB. This will exclude you from being licensed in any other state and will cause any other state in which you are licensed to take action against you.

6. Mandatory report to the National Practitioner Data Base (NPDB)), which remains there for 50 years. (Note: Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank or HIPDB recently folded into NPDB.)

7. The OIG of HHS will take action to exclude the provider from the Medicare Program. If this occurs, (and most of these offenses require mandatory exclusion) the provider will be placed on the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE) maintained by the OIG HHS.

8. If the above occurs, the provider is also automatically “debarred” or prohibited from participating in any capacity in any federal contracting and is placed on the U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA’s) debarment list.

9. Third party payors (health insurance companies, HMOs, etc.) will terminate the professional’s contract or panel membership with that organization.

10. Regardless of any of the above, any facility licensed by AHCA (hospitals, skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), public health clinics, group homes for the developmentally disabled, etc.) that are required to perform background screenings on their employees will result in AHCA notifying the facility and the professional that he or she is disqualified from employment.

What Can be Done?

If you have submitted a voluntary relinquishment without understanding the consequences, and the Board of Massage Therapy (“Board”) has not acted to accept it, you may withdraw it. What we do is submit a letter to the Executive Director of the Board stating it was submitted by mistake without fully understanding the consequences, and the massage therapist desires to withdraw the voluntary relinquishment. We submit this immediately (keeping a copy, of course) and by certified mail, return receipt requested, so we have proof of sending and proof of receipt.

However, you must also ask for a formal hearing to dispute the facts in your case, as well. We usually do this at the same time and by the same method. If you fail to request a formal hearing, then you are waiving your rights to challenge your guilt or innocence.

If you have requested an informal hearing, you have made a big mistake. For an informal hearing, you admit that everything stated in the complaint against you is true. You have admitted that all of the charges against you are correct, so you are pleading guilty to the charges. You are then giving up the right to have a hearing to determine whether you are really guilty or innocent. All you are going to be arguing about is the punishment you will receive. You will not be allowed to testify on or introduce any evidence on your guilt or innocence.

If you have submitted a request for an informal hearing, not realizing this, then what we usually do is to submit an immediate request to have the hearing changed over to a formal administrative hearing where you are allowed to dispute the facts against you and prove your innocence. In such a case, it is necessary to submit a Petition for a Formal Administrative Hearing and to specify which facts are contested or disputed and why.

The case is then sent to a neutral administrative law judge (ALJ) to hold a hearing on the case. The state Department of Health (DOH) (the parent agency over the Board of Massage Therapy) is then required to prove the facts against you by clear and convincing evidence. In fact, you do not even have to introduce any evidence or testimony, the burden of proof is on the DOH to prove the case against you.

Emergency Suspension Orders (ESOs), Appeals and Election of Rights (EOR) Forms.

In Florida, if you have an Emergency Suspension Order (ESO), you can appeal it to a court of appeal. The problem with this is that it is very technical to do so and is very costly. Call an attorney who specializes in appeals or appellate law and ask. Additionally, the court of appeal only rules on the law and not the facts. The appeal court will be required to accept everything that is stated in the ESO as true. There is no fact hearing, there are only legal arguments. Your basic case will be delayed while this takes place, and you will probably lose on appeal. This may not be the correct choice for you.

However, if there is an ESO, you also have the right to an expedited fact hearing on it. This may be the best course of action if you have documents and facts to show you are not guilty of the charges.

Furthermore, there will also be an additional document served on you, an administrative complaint (AC). When you receive the AC, it will probably say just about the same thing as the ESO. You will be given your hearing rights when this occurs (called an “Election of Rights” form or “EOR”). As we indicated above, you will almost always want to select a formal administrative hearing in which you dispute (challenge or contest) the allegations (charges) made against you. This is the only way you will have the right to have a full and fair hearing on your innocence of the charges. Make sure it is submitted in plenty of time to be received within the 21 days given. Seek legal advice in completing it. Do not admit to anything; you don’t have to as the state DOH has the burden of proof.

The Need for an Experienced Health Law Attorney.

It is very difficult to take the actions necessary yourself if you do not have any legal training. Nonlawyers make many stupid mistakes in these proceedings, including submitting written statements that can be used against them when they do not have to do so, talking to the DOH investigator or Board personnel, talking to the DOH prosecuting attorney, making admissions which can be used against them, and waiving their rights when they do not have to do so.

Most attorneys are not familiar with these types of procedures if they do not practice health law. They do not realize that the same rights which apply in criminal cases also apply to professional licensure cases. You need to find and hire an attorney experienced in this type of case. That would be a health law attorney, and preferably one who is Board Certified by the Florida Bar in Health Law.

What You Should Do.

So the bottom line is that if you are innocent and want to dispute any charges against you, you should:

1. If you have professional insurance coverage, such as HPSO Insurance, see if your insurance will cover your legal defense expenses in this type of case. Many will. We know HPSO will.

2. Act right away to request all of your rights in any matter. Make sure that anything you submit is actually received (not mailed, received) before the deadline given.

3. Do not call, write or speak to the DOH investigator, Board personnel, DOH personnel or the DOH attorney.

4. Do not make a statement, written or oral, to the DOH investigator, Board personnel, DOH personnel or the DOH attorney.

5. Contest (dispute or fight) every action that might be stated against you, including one by the NCBTMB or OIG.

6. Do not admit to anything you don’t have to as the state DOH has the burden of proof.

7. Keep copies of all forms or letters submitted, along with proof of mailing and proof of receipt (send via certified mail, return receipt requested).

8. Retain the services of a health lawyer who has experience in Board of Massage Therapy/Department of Health (DOH) cases (ask him or her how many he or she has actually done). DO THIS FIRST, NOT LAST!

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Department of Health (DOH) Investigations of 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.

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.

Legally Speaking: Psychologists, Mental Health Counselors, Social Workers and Therapists

Today begins a multi-part series focusing on the legal matters and needs concerning healthcare professionals, starting with those who practice in the field of psychology, including psychologists, Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHCs), Clinical Social Workers (CSWs) and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs).

Supervised by the Board of Psychology and the Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy and Mental Health Counseling, psychologists, Licensed Mental Health Counselors, Clinical Social Workers and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists are responsible for an important component of patient care: mental health. Insuring the mental health of a patient does not come without risks.

For this reason, every mental health professional should carry professional liability insurance that includes professional license defense coverage (sometimes called disciplinary defense, license defense, administrative hearing coverage or broad coverage). Most often this type of insurance coverage is included in most professional liability policies; however, if it is not, it can often be added as a rider to the insurance policy for a slight additional charge. Mental health professionals should be sure that coverage for professional license defense is at least $25,000 and a $50,000 increase is recommended.”Broad form coverage” should also be requested and obtained that includes coverage of legal fees for defense of all administrative or governmental proceedings, including Medicare audits, Medicaid audits, EEOC complaints, and other types of governmental actions that could be initiated.

Though mental health may not seem like a high-risk field, if dissatisfied, patients can file complaints that can lead to serious consequences. These complaints can be initiated against a mental health professional based solely on anonymous calls to the Department of Health Hotline, newspaper reports, prior arrest reports, disgruntled patients, disgruntled insurance companies, competitors, or other sources. Once an investigation is initiated psychologists, therapists, counselors and other mental health professionals should obtain legal representation immediately to ensure that each action on the part of the psychologist or other mental health professional will result in a more favorable outcome A board certified health lawyer experienced in representing mental health professionals will be the most qualified to handle a Department of Health case.

A mental health professional may never face a Department of Health investigation or Board of Psychology or Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy and Mental Health Counseling administrative hearing, but it is important that every psychologist and counselor has knowledge of current legislation impacting the psychology field. The Florida Statutes  have recently been updated to prohibit anyone from using the title of “social worker” unless certain requirements are met. Additionally, there have been changes made to guidelines for treatment programs for impaired professional and psychologist reporting requirements.

For more information about legal matters concerning mental health professionals, visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.