Tag Archives: settlement agreement

Pediatricians Who Are Targets of Medicaid Audits Should Request Hearings on the Final Audit Report Results

00011_RT8By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

We have recently been contacted by several pediatric practices that were subject to Medicaid audits. In several cases, the pediatricians received the final audit reports (FARs) stating that they owed Medicaid refunds, because of overbillings, in the tens of thousands of dollars.

With such demands for repayment of the alleged overpayments also come:

  1. Fines;
2. Penalties;
3. Requirements to sign agreements to refrain from such practices in the future;
4. Requirements to have personnel retrained; and
5. The specter of future audits.

In many cases, Medicare and Medicaid auditors may swiftly review supporting medical records and overlook key components that support the level of services (or CPT codes) that were billed, erroneously downgrading the code or disallowing the charge completely. Other times the pediatric or medical practice may have only provided partial records and have left out some key records that would support the codes billed.

Challenging the Determination.

Unfortunately, after receipt of the FAR, the only hope of challenging the determination would come by filing a written request or petition for a formal hearing in, specifically, a Medicaid case. In Medicare cases, other interim reviews or appeals are available.

If you have additional records you failed to provide, or if after a thorough review of the records you did provide show that all of the elements of a CPT code you billed (e.g., 99204 or 99205) were documented, then we recommend that you immediately retain the services of a board certified health lawyer experienced with Medicare and Medicaid audits to file a petition for you. Be sure a written request or petition for a formal hearing is filed within the time stated in the letter you receive, even if you must retain an attorney afterwards. Remember that the request must be in writing and must be received by the agency at the address specified before the date in the letter has passed.

You can always work out a settlement agreement, repayment agreement, or agreement for a different resolution of the situation. What you can’t do is to go back and get back your hearing rights after they have expired.

Steps to Take if you Receive Notice of an Audit.

What you should do immediately upon receiving notice of an audit:

 1. Retain the services of a board certified health lawyer who is experienced with such audits.

 2.  In a timely manner, provide all relevant documents pertaining to the audit, properly labeled and pages numbered (note:  in many instances, this may include more than just the minimum documents the audit requested).

 3. Watch for any interim, initial or preliminary audit reports (PARs), and be prepared to rebut it in detail if it requests a refund.

 4. If you receive a FAR demanding a repayment, be prepared to hire a board certified health lawyer who is experienced with such audits, if you have not already done so.

 5. If you disagree with the findings in the FAR, be sure the agency receives your request for a formal hearing to challenge the determination, prior to the date given in the FAR or demand letter.

For additional details, pointers and tips on this subject you may click here to read the prior blog we have published.

For information, details, pointers and tips on the subject of Medicare audits, you may click here to read the prior blog we have published on this.

Comments?

Do you know what to do if you are the target of a Medicaid audit? Did you know about requesting a hearing on the final audit report results? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Medicare and Medicaid Cases.

Attorneys with The Health Law Firm 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. We also handle Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S.

Our attorneys also represent health care professionals and health facilities in qui tam or whistleblower cases both in defending such claims and in bringing such claims. We have developed relationships with recognized experts in health care accounting, health care financing, utilization review, medical review, filling, coding, and other services that assist us in such matters. We have represented doctors, nurses and others as relators in bringing qui tam or whistleblower cases, as well.

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 © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

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Tuomey Healthcare System Ordered to Pay a Reduced $238 Million in Damages for Allegedly Violating Stark Law and False Claims Act

LOL Blog Label 2Lance O. Leider, J.D., The Health Law Firm and George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On September 30, 2013, a federal judge ordered Tuomey Healthcare System in Sumter, South Carolina, to pay $238 million in penalties and fines. The hospital system is accused of paying doctors to refer Medicare patients for treatments at the hospital, according to a number of media sources. The judge granted the government’s request to impose Stark law penalties and False Claims Act fines. The lawsuit against Tuomey was initially filed in 2005, by a whistle-blowing physician.

This corrected fine actually lowers the amount originally ordered by the federal judge, reducing it by $39 million. The original judgement was for approximately $277 million. The reduction in the damages was an acknowledgment that there was an error in the calculation of damages by the judge in the case, who awarded more than the government asked for.

Click here to read the entire ruling from the federal judge.

After the judge announced the fines, Tuomey began preparing to file an appeal, according to an article on Modern Healthcare. It is alleged that the hospital may be looking to settle.

Judge Ordered Hospital System to Pay Fines for Violating Stark Law and False Claims Act.

In a 2005 federal whistleblower or qui tam lawsuit, a Tuomey physician stated that a series of 19 deal contracts with specialty physicians in the area violated the federal ban on compensating doctors based on the volume and value of patient business they refer, according to Modern Healthcare. This is considered to be a financial conflict, illegal under federal laws.

The hospital has twice lost its case in U.S. District Court. A 2010, jury came to a $45 million split verdict that was overturned on appeal. In May 2013, a second jury found the hospital responsible for more violations than in the first trial, deciding that the hospital violated the Stark law and the False Claims Act.

It’s alleged that between 2005 and 2009, Tuomey collected $39 million in fraudulent Medicare claims.

To read the Modern Healthcare article, click here.

Open to Settlement.

According to WLTX, the CBS affiliate in Sumter, South Carolina, Tuomey is filing a notice of appeal. It is expected the hospital system is open to settle. According to a former attorney with the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Inspector General’s Office (OIG), it will be up to the government if they will settle. The former attorney also stated that with most of the civil litigation division on furlough it might take some time.

Complying with Stark and Other Anti-Fraud Laws.

The federal government has several tools in its toolbox to combat Medicare fraud. Among those are the Stark Act, Anti-Kickback laws, and Civil Monetary Penalty Laws. Each of these typically focuses on a particular type of behavior that is prone to abuse by health care providers.

Primarily, the Stark laws exist to combat the problems that can arise from physician self-referrals. Self-referrals are cases in which a physician orders a test or service and refers the patient to a provider in which the referring physician has a financial interest. This second provider will then bill Medicare for the service, essentially allowing the referring physician to cash in twice. Click here to read our previous blog on compliance with the Stark law.

Paying Kickbacks or Providing Things of Value in Exchange for Patient Referral Now Recognized as Basis for False Claims Act Cases.

U.S. v. Tuomey is just one of several different cases that has recently been decided that allows qui tam or whistleblower recoveries based on providing kickbacks for patient referrals. “Kickbacks” can include any thing or service of value. It can include, for example, tickets to ball games, free meals, sets of surgical scrubs, gift cards, appliances and free medical supplies. A “referral” can include an actual referral of a patient, a consultation to another physician, an order for x-rays, labs or other diagnostic testing, a prescription for medication, medical equipment or other supplies or services, an order for home health or nursing home services or other medical services.

It is the giving of something of value in exchange for the referral that violates the Stark Act and, many times, state laws. The theory is that this unnecessarily increases the amount of medical services that the government pays for without there being any actual medical need for them.

Now, under the decision in Tuomey and other cases, the claims for medical services (and equipment) that were submitted when the services (and equipment) were based on kickbacks, are considered to be false claims. Whistleblowers (qui tam plaintiffs or “relators”) can now file False Claims Act suits based on these theories and share in the government’s recovery. For example, and by way of demonstration only, if the person who filed the qui tam case in Tuomey received only 20% of the amount awarded to the government, that individual would receive approximately $47.6 million as their share. This is still big money to some of us.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Stark Compliance.

If you are involved in referring or providing DHS it is crucial that your arrangements are reviewed for compliance with Stark and other anti-fraud laws.

Violations of these laws can carry severe financial and criminal penalties. One of the best ways to avoid these sanctions is to have your current or potential arrangement reviewed by an attorney who is experienced in these matters.

The Health Law Firm routinely advises healthcare providers on Stark compliance issues for practitioners and providers of all types of DHS. We can advise you on the legality of a particular arrangement and can assist with remedying any perceived compliance issues.

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

Comments?

What do you think of this ruling? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Calson, Joe. “Out-of-Court Settlement for Tuomey may be in te Works Following Ruling Against the System.” Modern Healthcare. (October 1, 2013). From: http://bit.ly/15Lj2uF

United State of America ex rel Michael L. Drakeford, M.D. vs. Tuomey d/b/a Tuomey Healthcare System, Inc. Case Number 3:05-cv-02858-MBS. Federal Judge Order and Opinion. September 30, 2013. From: http://www.thehealthlawfirm.com/uploads/Toumey%20Case.pdf

Santaella, Tony. “Tuomey Healthcare Ordered to Pay $276 Million.” WLTX. (October 1, 2013). From: http://www.wltx.com/news/story.aspx?storyid=251321

About the Authors: 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.

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.

Hawaii Hospital to Pay More Than $451,000 to Resolve Whistleblower/Qui Tam Allegation of Improper Claims

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

Wahiawa General Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii, agreed to pay $451,428 to settle two lawsuits alleging that the hospital improperly billed Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare. The settlement stemmed from a civil whistleblower/qui tam lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed by a doctor who allegedly worked at an outpatient clinic operated by Wahiawa General Hospital, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). Wahiawa General Hospital signed the settlement agreement on August 29, 2013.

To read the press release from the DOJ, click here.

Whistleblower Receives Money in Settlement and Attorneys’ Fees Paid by Hospital.

According to the DOJ, the federal and state governments alleged that Wahiawa General Hospital wrongfully submitted claims to Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare from April 2008 through March 2011. The investigation was initiated after a doctor alleged the hospital submitted bills for services provided by resident doctors without the level of supervision required by law.

On top of the more than $451,000 settlement, Wahiawa General Hospital agreed to pay $75,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs to the attorneys who represented the doctor. The doctor will also receive more than $84,600 as part of the settlement, under the False Claims Act. To learn more on whistleblower/qui tam cases, read our two-part blog. Click here for part one, and click here for part two.

Most Qui Tams Filed by Doctors, Nurses and Employees.

From our review of whistleblower/qui tam cases that have been unsealed by the government, it appears most of these are filed by physicians, nurses or hospital staff employees who have some knowledge of false billing or inappropriate coding taking place. Normally the government will want to see some actual documentation of the claims submitted by the hospital or other institution. Usually physicians, nurses or staff employees have access to such documentation. Whistleblowers are urged to come forward as soon as possible. In many circumstances, documentation that shows the fraud “disappears” or cannot be located once it is known that a company is under investigation.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Qui Tam or Whistleblower Cases.

Attorneys with The Health Law Firm also represent health care professionals and health facilities in qui tam or whistleblower cases both in defending such claims and in bringing such claims. We have developed relationships with recognized experts in health care accounting, health care financing, utilization review, medical review, filling, coding, and other services that assist us in such matters. We have represented doctors, nurses and others as relators in bringing qui tam or whistleblower cases, as well.

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

Comments?

Individuals working in the health care industry often become aware of questionable activities. Often they are even asked to participate in it. In many cases the activity may amount to fraud on the government. Has this ever happened to you? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Associated Press. “Wahiawa General Hospital to Pay $450K Settlement.” Star Advertiser. (August 30, 2013). From: http://www.staradvertiser.com/news/breaking/221856781.html

Department of Justice. “Community Hospital Pays $451,428 to Resolve Allegation of Improper Claims.” Department of Justice. (August 30, 2013). From: http://www.justice.gov/usao/hi/news/1308wgh.html

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 York-Based MRI Company to Pay $3.57 Million Settlement to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations in Whistleblower/Qui Tam Case

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

On August 27, 2013, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a settlement between the government and New York-based Imagimed LLC, its former owners and its former chief radiologist. This $3.57 million settlement resolves whistleblower/qui tam allegations of false reimbursement claims for radiology scans. The payment also settles accusations that the company violated the Stark Law and the Anti-Kickback Statute.

Click here to read the press release from the DOJ.

Imagimed owns and operates 15 magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) facilities under the name Open MRI.

MRI Company Accused of Not Following Proper Safety Precautions and Committing Health Care Fraud.

According to the DOJ, from July 2001 through April 2008, Imagimed, the company’s former owners and the former chief radiologist submitted claims to Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE for MRI scans performed with a contrast dye without the direct supervision of a qualified doctor, as required by federal regulations.

The DOJ also alleges that from July 2005 to April 2008, Imagimed also had sham on-call arrangements with, and gave improper gifts to referring physicians, which is in violation of the Stark Law and the Anti-Kickback Statute.

Local Radiologist Blew Whistle and Receives a Cut of the Settlement.

According to the Associated Press, a local radiologist filed the lawsuit against Imagimed under the False Claims Act. The radiologist will receive $565,500 for coming forward. To read the Associated Press article, click here.

Whistleblowers stand to gain substantial amounts, sometimes as much as thirty percent (30%), of the amount the government recovers under the False Claims Act (31 U.S.C. Section 3730). Such awards encourage employees and contractors to come forward and report fraud. To learn more on whistleblower cases, read our two-part blog. Click here for part one, and click here for part two.

Most Qui Tams Filed by Doctors, Nurses and Employees.

From our review of qui tam cases that have been unsealed by the government, it appears most of these are filed by physicians, nurses or hospital staff employees who have some knowledge of false billing or inappropriate coding taking place. Normally the government will want to see some actual documentation of the claims submitted by the hospital or other institution. Usually physicians, nurses or staff employees have access to such documentation. Whistleblowers are urged to come forward as soon as possible. In many circumstances, documentation that shows the fraud “disappears” or cannot be located once it is known that a company is under investigation.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Qui Tam or Whistleblower Cases.

Attorneys with The Health Law Firm also represent health care professionals and health facilities in qui tam or whistleblower cases both in defending such claims and in bringing such claims. We have developed relationships with recognized experts in health care accounting, health care financing, utilization review, medical review, filling, coding, and other services that assist us in such matters. We have represented doctors, nurses and others as relators in bringing qui tam or whistleblower cases, as well.

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

Comments?

Individuals working in the health care industry often become aware of questionable activities. Often they are even asked to participate in it. In many cases the activity may amount to fraud on the government. Has this ever happened to you? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Department of Justice. “MRI Diagnostic Testing Company, Imagimed LLC, and Its Former Owners and Chief Radiologist to Pay $3.57 Million to Resolve False Claims Allegations.” Department of Justice. (August 27, 2013). From: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2013/August/13-civ-958.html

Associated Press. “Federal Authorities Settle MRI Case for $3.75M.” The Wall Street Journal. (August 29, 2013). From: http://online.wsj.com/article/APcf5d7d677786468bb9d446b6c3082e5d.html?KEYWORDS=medicare

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.

How to Prepare for an Informal Hearing Before the Florida Board of Psychology

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

If you are scheduled to appear for an informal hearing before the Florida Board of Psychology, there are a number of facts that you will want to know in order to be properly prepared. This article will cover many of them.

Limited Circumstances for Informal Administrative Hearing.

First, you should understand that you will only be at an informal hearing in which you appear before the Board of Psychology itself for a very limited number of reasons. These will include the following:

1. If you completed an election of rights (EOR) form and agreed that you did not intend to dispute any material facts alleged against you from the administrative complaint (AC) in the case.

2. If you entered into a settlement agreement (or “stipulation”) (similar to a plea bargain in a criminal case) in which you agreed to accept discipline against your license.

3. You failed to submit any election of rights (EOR) form and failed to file a petition for a formal hearing in a timely manner, and, therefore, you have waived your right to a formal hearing.

There are a few other circumstances in which there may be an informal hearing before the Board, such as motions to modify a final order, motion to lift a suspension of a license, appearance in accordance with an earlier order, petition for a declaratory statement, or other administrative matters. This article only discusses those directly relating to disciplinary action as indicated above.

What an Informal Administrative Hearing Is Not.

1. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to tell your side of the story. You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.

2. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to prove that you are innocent of the charges. You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.

3. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to introduce documents or evidence to show that someone else committed the offenses charged and you did not. You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.

4. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to argue that you should not be in the board’s impaired practitioners program (either the Professionals Resource Network (PRN) or the Intervention Project for Nurses (IPN)) because you have completed a different program or that you do not have a problem. These are the only programs recognized and used and you have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.

Formal Administrative Hearing vs. Informal Hearing.

If you desire to contest the facts alleged against you then you must state this in writing. If the material facts in a case are challenged by you, then the Board or the Department of Health (DOH) (note: all professional boards are under the Department of Health in Florida) must forward your case to the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) where a neutral, objective administrative law judge (ALJ) will be appointed to hold a formal hearing in your case. This is the only way that exists for you to prove that the facts alleged against you are incorrect or that you are not guilty of the charges made against you. In fact, you do not even have to do anything in such a case. The Department of Health has the burden of proof and it has to prove the charges against you and the material facts alleged against you by clear and convincing evidence. Often, it is unable to do this at a formal administrative hearing.

However, because of the technicalities of evidentiary law and administrative law, we do not recommend that a nonlawyer attempt to represent himself or herself at such hearings. You can make technical mistakes (such as answering requests for admissions incorrectly) that severely compromise any defense you may have. We recommend that you always retain the services of an experienced health lawyer in any such matter.
What to Do If You Find That You Are at an Informal Hearing and That You Do Desire to Contest the Material Facts of the Case (And Your Guilt or Innocence)

If you have been scheduled for an informal administrative hearing and you decide that you do desire to challenge the material facts alleged against you in the administrative complaint (AC), file a written objection to proceeding at the informal hearing. State that you have discovered that there are material facts that you do desire to challenge and that you desire that the proceedings be converted to a formal hearing. File this with the Clerk of the administrative agency you are before (usually the department of health or the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and also send a copy to the opposing attorney and the executive director of the Board. Do this as early as possible and keep proof that you have actually and filed the written request.

If you are already at the informal hearing when you discover this, object to the proceedings on the record and ask to have the informal hearing be converted to a formal hearing where you may contest the material facts. State this as many times as reasonably possible.

Preparing for an Informal Hearing.

Since you are not contesting the facts alleged against you, if you are going to an informal hearing be sure you do the following:

1. Be sure you know where the hearing is going to be held. Try to stay the night before in the same hotel as the hearing will be held. You will usually have to make these reservations early in order to get a room.

2. Attend a Board meeting that occurs before the one at which your case is scheduled. This will give you a feeling for the procedures that will be followed, will help to make you less nervous when you appear, and you can obtain continuing education units for doing so (be sure to sign in and sign out). Be sure to attend one of the days when the disciplinary hearings are held.

3. Dress professionally for the appearance. This may be the most important event in your professional career. For men, this means a suit and tie or, at least, a dark coat, dark slacks and a necktie. For women, a professional business suit or the equivalent is in order. Do not dress as if you are going to the park, the beach or out on a date. Do not wear sexually provocative or revealing clothing.

4. Check the agenda that is published on line a day or two before the scheduled hearing to make sure that your case is still scheduled for the date and time on the hearing notice. Informal hearings may be moved around on the schedule. Make sure you are there at the earliest time on the hearing notice or agenda.

5. Listen to questions asked of you by Board members and attempt to answer them directly and succinctly. You will be placed under oath for the proceeding and there will be a court reporter present as well as audio recording devices to take everything down.

6. Do not argue with the Board members or lose your temper. This is not the time or place to let this happen. If you have such tendencies, then you should have an attorney there with you who can intercept some of the questions and can make defensive arguments (to the extent that they may be permitted) for you.

7. You may introduce documents and evidence in mitigation. However, you have agreed that the material facts alleged are true, so you may not contest these. In effect, you have pleaded guilty and you are just arguing about how much punishment (discipline) and what kind of punishment you should receive.

8. If you do intend to introduce documents and evidence in mitigation, be sure you know what the mitigating factors are (these are published in a separate board rule in the Florida Administrative Code for each professional board). These may include, for example, the fact that there was no patient harm, that there was no monetary loss, that restitution has been made, the length of time the professional has been practicing, the absence of any prior discipline, etc. You should submit these far ahead of time with a notice of filing, so that they are sent out to the board members with the other materials in your file. This is another reason to have experienced counsel represent you at the informal hearing.

9. Be prepared to take responsibility for your actions. If you are not prepared to take responsibility, then this means you must believe you are innocent and you should be at a formal hearing, not an informal one.

10. Be prepared to explain what went wrong, why it went wrong, and what remedial measures you have taken to prevent a recurrence of this type of event in the future. Show that you have learned from this experience and that you are not going to make the same mistake again.

11. It is our advice to always retain the services of an experienced attorney to represent you at such hearings. Often your professional liability insurance will cover this. If you have professional liability insurance, be sure that it contains a rider or addendum that provides coverage for professional license defense matters and administrative hearings. You need at least $25,000 to $50,000 in coverage for this type of defense. If necessary, you should contact your insurer or insurance agent and have the limits increased for a small additional premium.

Other Little known Facts to Remember.

Professional licensing matters are considered to be “penal” or “quasi-criminal” in nature. Therefore, you have your Fifth Amendment rights in relation to being required to give evidence against yourself. You cannot be compelled to do this in such matters. However, since it is an administrative proceeding and not a criminal proceeding, there is no requirement that the licensee be advised of this by a DOH investigator or attorney.

If you enter into a settlement agreement and attend the informal hearing to approve it, nothing you say or testify to at this hearing can later be used against you. This is because you are involved in an attempt to negotiate and settle (or compromise) the claims being made against you. It is a general rule of law that nothing the parties say in such settlement proceedings can later be used as evidence if the settlement agreement is not approved. The law tries to promote settlements among parties to any dispute in this way.

It is true that on occasion the Board will examine a case on an informal hearing and will decide to dismiss it. This is rare, but it does happen. Sometimes, it will be a tactical decision on the part of you and your attorney to elect to go to an informal hearing with the hope that the Board may examine the case and decide to dismiss it. However, you cannot count on this happening.

Don’t Wait Too Late; Consult with an Experienced Health Law Attorney Early.

Do not wait until action has been taken against you to consult with an experienced attorney in these matters. Few cases are won on appeal. It is much easier to win your case when there is proper time to prepare and you have requested a formal hearing so that you may actually dispute the facts being alleged against you.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing psychologists in investigations and at Board of Psychology hearings. Call now or visit our website http://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.

Preparing for a Florida Board of Medicine Informal Hearing

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

If you are scheduled to appear for an informal hearing before the Florida Board of Medicine, there are a number of facts that you will want to know in order to be properly prepared.  This article will cover many of them.

Limited Circumstances for Informal Administrative Hearing

First, you should understand that you will only be at an informal hearing in which you appear before the Board of Medicine itself for a very limited number of reasons.  These will include the following:

  • If you completed an election of rights (EOR) form and agreed that you did not intend to dispute any material facts alleged against you from the administrative complaint (AC) in the case.
  • If you entered into a settlement agreement (or “stipulation”) (similar to a plea bargain in a criminal case) in which you agreed to accept discipline against your license.
  • You failed to submit any election of rights (EOR) form and failed to file a petition for a formal hearing in a timely manner, and, therefore, you have waived your right to a formal hearing.

There are a few other circumstances in which there may be an informal hearing before the Board, such as motions to modify a final order, motion to lift a suspension of a license, appearance in accordance with an earlier order, petition for a declaratory statement, or other administrative matters.  This article only discusses those directly relating to disciplinary action as indicated above.

What an Informal Administrative Hearing Is Not

  1. An informal administrative hearing is notan opportunity for you to tell your side of the story.  You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.
  2. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to prove that you are innocent of the charges.  You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.
  3. An informal administrative hearing is notan opportunity for you to introduce documents or evidence to show that someone else committed the offenses charged and you did not.  You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.
  4. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to argue that you should not be in the board’s impaired practitioners program (either the Professionals Resource Network (PRN) or the intervention Project for Nurses (IPN)) because you have completed a different program or that you do not have a problem.  These are the only programs recognized and used and you have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.

Formal Administrative Hearing vs. Informal Hearing

If you desire to contest the facts alleged against you then you must state this in writing.  If the material facts in a case are challenged by you, then the Board or the Department of Health (DOH) (note: all professional boards are under the Department of Health in Florida) must forward your case to the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) where a neutral, objective administrative law judge (ALJ) will be appointed to hold a formal hearing in your case.  This is the only way that exists for you to prove that the facts alleged against you are incorrect or that you are not guilty of the charges made against you.  In fact, you do not even have to do anything in such a case.  The Department of Health has the burden of proof and it has to prove the charges against you and the material facts alleged against you by clear and convincing evidence.  Often, it is unable to do this at a formal administrative hearing.

However, because of the technicalities of evidentiary law and administrative law, we do not recommend that a nonlawyer attempt to represent himself or herself at such hearings.  You can make technical mistakes (such as answering requests for admissions incorrectly) that severely compromise any defense you may have.  We recommend that you always retain the services of an experienced health lawyer in any such matter.

What to Do If You Find That You Are at an Informal Hearing and That You Do Desire to Contest the Material Facts of the Case (And Your Guilt or Innocence)

If you have been scheduled for an informal administrative hearing and you decide that you do desire to challenge the material facts alleged against you in the administrative complaint (AC), file a written objection to proceeding at the informal hearing.  State that you have discovered that there are material facts that you do desire to challenge and that you desire that the proceedings be converted to a formal hearing.  File this with the Clerk of the administrative agency you are before (usually the department of health or the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and also send a copy to the opposing attorney and the executive director of the Board.  Do this as early as possible and keep proof that you have actually and filed the written request.

If you are already at the informal hearing when you discover this, object to the proceedings on the record and ask to have the informal hearing be converted to a formal hearing where you may contest the material facts.  State this as many times as reasonably possible.

Preparing for an Informal Hearing

Since you are not contesting the facts alleged against you, if you are going to an informal hearing be sure you do the following:

  1. Be sure you know where the hearing is going to be held.  Try to stay the night before in the same hotel as the hearing will be held.  You will usually have to make these reservations early in order to get a room.
  2. Attend a Board meeting that occurs before the one at which your case is scheduled.  This will give you a feeling for the procedures that will be followed, will help to make you less nervous when you appear, and you can obtain continuing education units for doing so (be sure to sign in and sign out).  Be sure to attend one of the days when the disciplinary hearings are held.
  3. Dress professionally for the appearance.  This may be the most important event in your professional career.  For men, this means a suit and tie or, at least, a dark coat, dark slacks and a necktie.  For women, a professional business suit or the equivalent is in order.  Do not dress as if you are going to the park, the beach or out on a date.  Do not wear sexually provocative or revealing clothing.
  4. Check the agenda that is published on line a day or two before the scheduled hearing to make sure that your case is still scheduled for the date and time on the hearing notice.  Informal hearings may be moved around on the schedule.  Make sure you are there at the earliest time on the hearing notice or agenda.
  5. Listen to questions asked of you by Board members and attempt to answer them directly and succinctly.  You will be placed under oath for the proceeding and there will be a court reporter present as well as audio recording devices to take everything down.
  6. Do not argue with the Board members or lose your temper.  This is not the time or place to let this happen.  If you have such tendencies, then you should have an attorney there with you who can intercept some of the questions and can make defensive arguments (to the extent that they may be permitted) for you.
  7. You may introduce documents and evidence in mitigation.  However, you have agreed that the material facts alleged are true, so you may not contest these.  In effect, you have plead guilty and you are just arguing about how much punishment (discipline) and what kind of punishment you should receive.
  8. If you do intend to introduce documents and evidence in mitigation, be sure you know what the mitigating factors are (these are published in a separate board rule in the Florida Administrative Code for each professional board).  These may include, for example, the fact that there was no patient harm, that there was no monetary loss, that restitution has been made, the length of time the professional has been practicing, the absence of any prior discipline, etc.  You should submit these far ahead of time with a notice of filing, so that they are sent out to the board members with the other materials in your file.  This is another reason to have experienced counsel represent you at the informal hearing.
  9. Be prepared to take responsibility for your actions.  If you are not prepared to take responsibility, then this means you must believe you are innocent and you should be at a formal hearing, not an informal one.
  10. Be prepared to explain what went wrong, why it went wrong, and what remedial measures you have taken to prevent a recurrence of this type of event in the future.  Show that you have learned from this experience and that you are not going to make the same mistake again.
  11. It is our advice to always retain the services of an experienced attorney to represent you at such hearings.  Often your professional liability insurance will cover this.  If you have professional liability insurance, be sure that it contains a rider or addendum that provides coverage for professional license defense matters and administrative hearings.  You need at least $25,000 to $50,000 in coverage for this type of defense.  If necessary, you should contact your insurer or insurance agent and have the limits increased for a small additional premium

Other Little Known Facts to Remember

Professional licensing matters are considered to be “penal” or “quasi-criminal” in nature.  Therefore, you have your Fifth Amendment rights in relation to being required to give evidence against yourself.  You cannot be compelled to do this in such matters.  However, since it is an administrative proceeding and not a criminal proceeding, there is no requirement that the licensee be advised of this by a DOH investigator or attorney.

If you enter into a settlement agreement and attend the informal hearing to approve it, nothing you say or testify to at this hearing can later be used against you.  This is because you are involved in an attempt to negotiate and settle (or compromise) the claims being made against you.  It is a general rule of law that nothing the parties say in such settlement proceedings can later be used as evidence if the settlement agreement is not approved.  The law tries to promote settlements among parties to any dispute in this way.

It is true that on occasion the Board will examine a case on an informal hearing and will decide to dismiss it.  This is rare, but it does happen.  Sometimes, it will be a tactical decision on the part of you and your attorney to elect to go to an informal hearing with the hope that the Board may examine the case and decide to dismiss it.  However, you cannot count on this happening.

Don’t Wait Too Late;  Consult with an Experienced Health Law Attorney Early

Do not wait until action has been taken against you to consult with an experienced attorney in these matters.  Few cases are won on appeal.  It is much easier to win your case when there is proper time to prepare and you have requested a formal hearing so that you may actually dispute the facts being alleged against you.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing physicians in investigations and at Board of Medicine hearings.  Call now 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.