Supreme Court Says FCA Case Liability Requires Defendants’ Subjective Belief

Author and attorney headshot leaning with hands folded in frontBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On June 1, 2023, the Supreme Court handed down an opinion on the knowledge standard required in False Claims Act (FCA) cases in a precedential decision that leaves the whistleblower plaintiffs bar reeling. In a unanimous ruling, the high court said liability of defendants in FCA cases would be based on their own belief in the falsity of their claims, rather than an “objectively reasonable” interpretation of the law or regulation. This appears to set the age-old maxim of “ignorance of the law is no excuse” on its head. Now, apparently, a defendant can argue that he, she or it was ignorant of the law and win.

The case before the Supreme Court was consolidated from two lower court decisions in the cases United States ex rel. Schutte v. SuperValu Inc. and United States ex rel. Proctor v. Safeway.

When Subjective Belief is Relevant in FCA Cases.

In the cases which the Supreme Court decided, the whistleblowers accused SuperValu and Safeway of violating the FCA by overcharging Medicare, Medicaid, and the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program for prescription drugs.

According to the rules of these programs, pharmacies cannot charge the government more than the “usual and customary” price for a drug, which is the cash price charged to the general public. The plaintiffs claimed that the pharmacies overbilled the government when they started offering discounted prices to consumers under a price-match program to compete with other pharmacies. They also offered a membership discount program but did not adjust their “usual and customary” prices, continuing to charge the government more than they should have.

The Lower Court’s Ruling.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April 2022, that the pharmacies had submitted false claims by not reporting their discounted prices, which were the “usual and customary” prices. The appeals court also stated that the retailers had made reasonable interpretations of ambiguous laws without being warned against it by authoritative guidance. The circuit court referred to the Safeco standard from the Supreme Court’s 2007 Safeco Insurance Co. of America v. Burr case in its decision.

Click here to learn more about the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling.

The Supreme Court’s Ruling.

The Seventh Circuit’s perspective was rejected by the Supreme Court, which instead focused on the defendant’s intentions when submitting false claims. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for a unanimous court stated, “What matters for an FCA case is whether the defendant knew the claim was false. Thus, if [the defendants] correctly interpreted the relevant phrase and believed their claims were false, they could have known their claims were false.” Read the opinion in full here.

Under this rationale, a defendant could successfully make the argument, “I didn’t know the claim was false and I never bothered to do anything to make sure of that fact.” Even objectively unreasonable claims, such as charging a million dollars for a drug which only cost one dollar, could be successfully defended.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Health Care Fraud Investigations and other Legal Proceedings.

The Health Law Firm represents healthcare providers in Medicare and Medicaid audits, and in RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S. We also represent health providers in civil and administrative litigation by government agencies and insurance companies attempting to recoup claims that have been paid.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent physicians, dentists, pharmacists, psychotherapists, medical groups, clinics, pharmacies, assisted living facilities (ALFs), home health agencies, nursing homes, group homes and other healthcare providers in Medicaid and Medicare investigations, audits and recovery actions.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Elberg, Jacob. “Supreme Court maintains focus on defendant’s subjective beliefs in False Claims Act cases.” SCOTUS Blog. (June 1, 2023). Web.

Wilson, Daniel. “Justices Say FCA Liability Hinges On Defendants’ Beliefs.” Law360. (June 1, 2023). Web.

Gaivin, Kathleen. “False Claims Act ruling by High Court a ‘clear win’ for government, expert says.” McKnights Senior Living. (June 2, 2023). Web.

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 Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

Current Open Positions with The Health Law Firm. The Health Law Firm always seeks qualified individuals interested in health law. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. If you are a current member of The Florida Bar or a qualified professional who is interested, please forward a cover letter and resume to: [email protected] or fax them to (407) 331-3030.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2023. The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Medications and Substances that Mimic Prohibited Drugs on Urinalysis Drug Tests (Part 1)

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
In representing nurses and other licensed health professionals, we constantly discuss positive drug screenings, usually from employer-ordered drug testing, with our clients.  These clients include nurses, pharmacists, dental professionals, mental health counselors, therapists, etc.  Often these individuals need to remember that if they apply for a job with a new employer or are working for a large corporation or the government, they are subject to employer-ordered drug screenings.  Most problems arise when the professional has applied to a hospital or a placement agency for work in a hospital and they must submit to a pre-employment drug test.
The client often contends that the result is a false positive and that some other substance must be responsible for it.

A positive result for any drug for which you do not have a valid prescription from a physician, including marijuana, will cause you to be eliminated from consideration for a new job or terminated from a current position and a complaint against your professional license, which could cause you to lose it.  We are routinely called on to defend such situations.

Series of Blogs to Discuss Substances that Can Mimic Prohibited Drugs on Drug Tests.

In the years I have been doing this, I have encountered many cases in which other substances have caused a positive result for a prohibited substance on a drug screening test.

In this series of blogs, I intend to discuss some of the substances scientifically shown to cause false positives on employer-ordered drug screening tests.  This is the first in the series.

Over-the-Counter Medications Mimicking Amphetamines on Drug Tests.

Following is a discussion of substances that can cause a false positive for amphetamines on a urinalysis drug test.  This material comes from an article in Case Reports in Psychiatry published in 2013. (Ref. 1)
Many prescription pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter (OTC) medications have been previously reported in the literature to cause a false-positive result for amphetamines on urine drug screens. Many OTC medications have been reported in scientific literature to produce false positives for amphetamines on urine drug screenings, chiefly antihistamines.

The OTC medications that have been documented to and are well known as causing false positives for amphetamines on drug tests include nasal decongestants, Vicks inhaler, MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxy methamphetamine;  commonly known as ecstacy, molly, mandy or X), and pseudoephedrine.  (Refs. 1-5)  Some of these are prohibited medications that cannot be prescribed and are only available as “street drugs” such as MDMA.

Prescription Medications Documented as Mimicking Amphetamines.

Prescription medications known to have mimicked amphetamines on testing include antipsychotics and antidepressants.  (Refs. 1 & 2)
The prescription medications known to cause false-positive amphetamine urine drug screen include fluoxetine, selegiline, ranitidine, trazodone, nefazodone, brompheniramine, phenylpropanolamine, chlorpromazine, promethazine, ephedrine, methamphetamine, and labetalol.  (Refs. 2-5)  However, the fact that the individual taking the drug test might have a prescription for one of these might cause the employer to disqualify the employee or potential employee from consideration for the job.
Bupropion (an atypical antidepressant that inhibits norepinephrine and dopamine re-uptake), is a drug used to treat depression and smoking cessation, but may also be used off-label to treat ADHD.  It has also been documented as causing false positive results for amphetamines on drug screenings.  (Ref. 6)
The drug atomoxetine has metabolites that are similar to those of amphetamines (phenylpropan-1-amine verses phenyl-propan-2-amine).  This could also result in a false positive on a urine drug screen.  (Ref. 1)

 

Other Discussions in Future Blogs.

In future blogs, I intend to discuss false positive claims associated with use of ibuprofen, amoxicillin, coca leaf tea, poppy seeds and other common substances and medications.  Stay tuned.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys in Matters Involving PRN or IPN.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent physicians, dentists, nurses and other health professionals in matters involving PRN or IPN. Our attorneys also represent health providers in Department of Health investigations, before professional boards, in licensing matters, and in administrative hearings.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com.

References:

1. Fenderson JL, Stratton AN, Domingo JS, Matthews GO, Tan CD. Amphetamine positive urine toxicology screen secondary to atomoxetine. Case Rep Psychiatry. 2013;2013:381261. doi: 10.1155/2013/381261. Epub 2013 Jan 30. PMID: 23424703; PMCID: PMC3570929.
(Accessed on May 20, 2023.)
2. Brahm NC, Yeager LL, Fox MD, Farmer KC, Palmer TA. Commonly prescribed medications and potential false-positive urine drug screens. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2010 Aug 15;67(16):1344-50. doi: 10.2146/ajhp090477. PMID: 20689123.
3. Vincent EC, Zebelman A, Goodwin C, Stephens MM. Clinical inquiries. What common substances can cause false positives on urine screens for drugs of abuse? J Fam Pract. 2006 Oct;55(10):893-4, 897. PMID: 17014756.
4. Rapuri SB, Ramaswamy S, Madaan V, Rasimas JJ, Krahn LE. ‘Weed’ out false-positive urine drug screens. Current Psychiatry. 2006;5(8):107–110. [Google Scholar]
5. Moeller KE, Lee KC, Kissack JC. Urine drug screening: practical guide for clinicians. Mayo Clin Proc. 2008 Jan;83(1):66-76. doi: 10.4065/83.1.66. Erratum in: Mayo Clin Proc. 2008 Jul;83(7):851. PMID: 18174009.
6. Reidy L, Walls HC, Steele BW. Crossreactivity of bupropion metabolite with enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays designed to detect amphetamine in urine. Ther Drug Monit. 2011 Jun;33(3):366-8. doi: 10.1097/FTD.0b013e3182126d08. PMID: 21436763.

 

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. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

Current Open Positions with The Health Law Firm.  The Health Law Firm always seeks qualified individuals interested in health law.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  If you are a current member of The Florida Bar or a qualified professional who is interested, please forward a cover letter and resume to: [email protected] or fax them to (407) 331-3030.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2023 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.
By |2023-05-23T11:44:39-04:00May 23, 2023|Categories: Dental Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Medicare Revocation and the Collateral Damage It Can Cause Health Care Providers

Author HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
Many healthcare professionals are unaware of the adverse long-term collateral effects of Medicare revocation or exclusion on their careers and future employment. However, if you are a physician, dentist, nurse, mental health counselor, psychologist, pharmacist, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, massage therapist, or other licensed health professional whose license is revoked or suspended, there may still be hope.

Lasting Consequences of Medicare Revocation. 
A revocation or exclusion from Medicare is often a severe consequence of license discipline on a professional license and can devastate a provider’s career. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) can revoke a healthcare provider’s agreement to participate in Medicare. When this occurs, their Medicare billing privileges are terminated.  Their legal authority to write prescriptions, referrals, or orders for tests paid by Medicare also vanishes.
Additionally, the exclusion can last for many years. This can be a career-ending move for many healthcare providers, especially physicians, as Medicare revocation is reported to the National Practitioner Databank (NPDB). In addition, it can potentially affect their opportunities to work in hospitals with other Medicare providers or on health insurance panels.
For this reason, healthcare providers need to retain a health law attorney with experience in licensing issues who can help them navigate the complex legal system Medicare presents. A skilled attorney can review the facts of the case, develop a strategy for defending the provider’s license, recommend actions to avoid or mitigate the damages and represent them in administrative hearings or proceedings in court. In some cases, an effective legal strategy may minimize the impact of discipline or even prevent Medicare revocation or exclusion. However, the best way to protect against license discipline and its consequences is to ensure that you are in compliance with Medicare standards, regulations, and procedures.
To learn more, read one of my prior blogs here.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys in Healthcare Licensing Issues.

If you have had a license suspended or revoked, or you are facing imminent action against your license, it is imperative that you contact an experienced healthcare attorney to assist in defending you.  Remember, your license is your livelihood. It is not recommended that you should not attempt to pursue these matters without the assistance of an experienced health care attorney. The Health Law Firm routinely represents physicians, dentists, nurses, medical groups, clinics, and other healthcare providers in Medicare issues and in defense of actions in personal and facility licensing actions.
To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Hollender, Allison and Wortley, Mackenzie. “Collateral Consequences of Medicare Revocations.” AHLA. (March 9, 2021). Web.
Simas, Steven. “Collateral Consequence of Healthcare License Discipline – Medicare Exclusion.” SIMAS & Associates. (October 3, 2017). Web.

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 Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

Attorney Positions with The Health Law Firm.  The Health Law Firm is always looking for qualified attorneys interested in the practice of health law. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. If you are a member of The Florida Bar and are interested, forward a cover letter and your resume to: [email protected] or fax to: (407) 331-3030.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2023 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.
By |2023-05-17T11:25:42-04:00May 17, 2023|Categories: Dental Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Former Dental Office Manager Sentenced to One Year in Prison for Defrauding Medicaid Out of More Than $813,000

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

On October 1, 2021, a former dental office manager was sentenced to 12 months in prison for her role in a Medicaid fraud scheme. The office manager for Universal Smiles, a D.C.-based dental practice was sentenced for her guilt in bilking Medicaid, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for D.C.

The office manager was indicted in January 2019, along with the dentist who ran the practice. The office manager pleaded guilty in May 2021 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and admitted she received over $813,000 through false billings.

The Fraudulent Billing Scheme.

Through the dental practice, she and the dentist allegedly both participated to defraud the D.C. Medicaid Program. As part of the scheme, both the dentist and the office manager allegedly billed Medicaid for thousands of provisional crowns, a significant number of which were not provided to the patients. From August 9, 2012, through February 26, 2014, D.C. Medicaid paid Universal Smiles approximately $5.4 million. Of that amount, the office manager allegedly received approximately $813,184.

The amount paid by Medicaid to the dental practice, $5.4 million for an 18 month period, should have raised red flags for anyone seeing it. Apparently, it did. And for an office manager of a dental practice to receive $813,000 for an 18 month period, ditto.

As part of the sentence, the office manager has been ordered to pay back the full amount she received from Medicaid. She will also serve three years of supervised release following the completion of her one-year prison term.

Click here to read the press release by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and learn more.

To read about a similar case that also deals with a healthcare professional, click here to read my prior blog.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Medicaid Audits and Investigations of Dentists and Healthcare Professionals.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to dentists, dental hygienists, physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, CRNAs, pharmacists, psychologists, and other health providers in Medicaid and Medicare investigations, audits, and recovery actions.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Martin, Colleen. “Rockville Woman Defrauded Medicaid At Dental Office: US Attorney.” Patch. (October 4, 2021). Web.

Bethesda Beat Staff Reporter. “Rockville woman to serve prison term over D.C. Medicaid fraud.” Bethesda Magazine. (October 4, 2021). Web.

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., Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620. Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2022 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

By |2023-05-10T20:02:02-04:00May 12, 2023|Categories: Dental Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Humana Agrees To Pay $11.2 Million to End Nurses’ Overtime Suit

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

On September 27, 2021, Humana agreed to pay $11.2 million to end claims that the health insurance company denied a group of nurses overtime pay by misclassifying them as exempt employees. A Wisconsin federal judge approved the deal with Humana, and a group of more than 200 nurses reached, securing a $36,000 average payment for each nurse involved in the suit.

A Violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

This dispute stems from a class-action lawsuit filed in 2017 alleging that Humana misclassified its clinical nurse advisers as exempt employees and denied them overtime compensation, violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Many professionals and supervisors or managerial employees are considered to be exempt from overtime laws.

In the suit, the company faced allegations from nurses who claimed they were never paid for overtime even though they were required to work more than 40 hours per week to meet Humana’s production goals and expectations.

The Settlement.

The settlement agreement will allocate almost $3 million to cover attorney fees and costs. Additionally, the 221 nurses that are part of the settling class will get nearly $8 million based on the number of full-time weeks the nurses worked. According to the motion, the average payment per nurse for unpaid overtime and liquidated damages will be over $36,000.

The case is O’Leary v. Humana Insurance Co., et al., case number 17-cv-1774, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Click here to view the court’s brief in full.

To read about another case dealing with alleged pay discrimination in the healthcare field, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses and Other Healthcare Professionals.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely provide legal representation to nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, dentists, dental assistants, physicians, physician assistants, mental health counselors, and other health providers. We also provide legal representation for employers in EEOC complaints, workplace discrimination complaints, and suits involving harassment or discrimination complaints. We also provide legal representation in Department of Health, Board of Medicine, Board of Nursing investigations and complaints, DORA investigations and complaints. We provide litigation services in state and federal courts and state and federal administrative hearings. We provide legal representation across the U.S., not just in Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Spezzemonte, Irene. “Humana To Pay $11.2M To End Nurses’ Misclassification Suit.” Law360. (September 27, 2021). Web.

Webster, Katherine. “Court OKs $11.2M Overtime Settlement Between Humana, Nurses.” Top Class Actions. (September 30, 2021). Web.

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 Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

 

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law

 

From the archives: CMS Using Medicare Termination to Squash Doctors Involved in Overprescribing Opioids

Previously published on February 11, 2022
By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Recently it has come to our attention that there may be a nationwide effort by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) to squelch physicians who prescribe opioids and other narcotic medications. We have seen letters sent out by CMS MACs to physicians notifying them that their Medicare program billing privileges have been terminated because CMS has identified them as a provider who is overprescribing.


Nationwide Effort to Run “Pill Mills” Out of Business.

We are well aware of efforts by the various law enforcement authorities at the state and federal level to prosecute and put out of business physicians identified as “pill mills” and the pharmacies that fill their prescriptions.  These include surprise audits and inspections, followed by administrative actions or criminal prosecutions, by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the state Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Health, statewide task forces, and local sheriff’s offices and police departments.

However, this new heavy-handed tactic hits physicians in the pocketbook. It takes advantage of an arcanely-complex system of administrative appeals that is heavily weighted in favor of the government.

If You Receive a Letter from CMS Regarding Termination of Your Medicare Billing Privileges, Act Immediately.

Do not hesitate or wait if you receive a letter notifying you that CMS is terminating your billing privileges. You must get an experienced health care attorney to represent you right away and appeal the decision through a “request for reconsideration.”  You must also ask that the termination not go into effect while the appeal is pending and provide reasons why it should not.  Often you only have a few days to do this.

In Truth, There May Be No Oversprescribing.

In one recent case, we represented a physician who received such a letter stating she was terminated from Medicare. She was not a pain management physician, and she had over 2,000 patients. She only prescribed a handful (literally, less than ten) of these patients opioids, but the medical necessity was present and well-documented. However, because Medicare was aware of the prescriptions, it terminated her because it was paying for them.

Consequences of a Medicare Privileges Termination.

There are many, many seriously adverse consequences of a termination of Medicare privileges. Often we refer to this as a “death sentence.” It could be the death of your medical practice and possibly your medical career.

Consequences include:

1.    A waiting period of ten (10) years before you can even reapply.

2.    Placement on the OIG’s List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE).

3.    Having to notify hospitals and other health facilities where you are on the staff so that your medical staff privileges can be terminated.

4.    Being terminated from your state’s Medicaid Program.

5.    Being placed on the exclusion list for all federal contracts and contractors.

6.    Being terminated from the provider panels of all health insurers.

7.    Being excluded from any job or any position, including contractor or subcontractor for any organization that receives and government funding.

8.    Possible loss of medical license or non-renewal of medical license because of #1, #2 and #4 above (in most states).

 

Act Fast; Don’t Delay!

Act fast if you receive such a letter. Do not delay.  Retain the services of a health lawyer experienced in Medicare appeals and federal administrative hearings.

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 Toll-Free (888) 331-6620 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 Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

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“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2022 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Texas Hospital’s Vaccination Mandate For COVID-19 Upheld by Federal Court

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

As some states lift COVID-19 restrictions, the business community is still grappling with the dynamic between the COVID-19 vaccine and workplace operations. To address this, some U.S. employers have elected to adopt mandatory vaccination policies. These policies, in essence, require that, subject to a few exceptions, all employees must receive the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of continued employment.

Not surprisingly, we see various legal challenges to mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies across the country. On June 12, 2021, a federal court in Texas became the first to rule on the permissibility of such policies enforced by private employers. In a landmark ruling, the court stated that mandatory workplace vaccination policies are lawful under Texas and federal law and may be enforced as a condition of continued employment.


The Court’s Ruling on Mandatory Vaccination Policies.

The lawsuit, Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hospital, was initially filed on behalf of 117 employees after their employer, Houston Methodist Hospital, instituted a policy requiring employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of continued employment. Employees who were not vaccinated by the deadline were to be placed on a two-week unpaid suspension to allow them to comply with the policy. Under the policy, those who ultimately did not comply would be terminated.

In the law suit challenging the employer’s policy, the Plaintiffs asserted: (1) the employees whose employment was terminated as a result of this policy were wrongfully terminated in violation of Texas law, and (2) the vaccine mandate violated public policy of the state of Texas.

Texas Wrongful Termination Claim.

Under Texas law, the court found that firing an employee who is unwilling to comply with an employer’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy does not constitute wrongful termination. Texas law only protects employees who are fired for refusing to commit an illegal act at the request of their employer. The court reasoned that receiving the vaccine is not an illegal act given the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings upholding involuntary quarantines and mandatory vaccines.

Violation of Public Policy.

The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ public policy arguments because, according to the court, Texas law does not recognize a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. Additionally, the court noted that a mandatory vaccine requirement is consistent with public policy. The Supreme Court has previously held that state-imposed quarantine and vaccination requirements do not violate due process of law.

The court held that the plaintiffs were not being coerced to get the vaccine but were being given a basic choice by its employer: get the vaccine so the hospital could safely continue its business of saving lives or seek employment elsewhere.

Lastly, the court also cited recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance in its decision. The guidance states that employers can require employees to be vaccinated, subject to the obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with legitimate medical or religious reasons for not being vaccinated. Click here to view.

To view the court’s order in full, click here.

Important Takeaway From This Court Decision.

While there are sure to be future legal challenges to mandatory workplace vaccination policies, this decision provides strong support for their use and permissibility. However, even with this ruling, employers with policies need to be mindful of their obligations and potentially provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Of course, we will see numerous legal challenges of all kinds to these decisions.

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

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations. We do NOT represent plaintiffs in COVID-19 injury suits, however.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Downie, Alex. “Federal Court Upholds Employer’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate.” The National Law Review. (June 15, 2021). Web.

Brown, Amanda, Goldstein, Mark. “In first-of-its-kind decision, federal court rules that mandatory workplace COVID-19 vaccine policies are lawful.” Employment Law Watch. (June 16, 2021). Web.

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 Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999. Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

NY Court Rules Doctor Can Subpoena Yelp for User Info in Defamation Suit

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

On October 7, 2021, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that Yelp is subject to a subpoena to reveal the names of anonymous users who left negative reviews for a doctor and his medical practice. The federal court judge found that the statements in the reviews made on Yelp contained factual claims that the doctor did have a legal right to contest in court. This is a factor that is usually missing in such cases. Accordingly, a motion for expedited discovery filed by the plaintiff physician was granted by the federal judge.

A Litigious History of Lawsuits.

The embattled physician has reportedly filed other lawsuits against reviewers for defamation. The doctor himself says he’s won or reached settlements with three of the negative reviewers, forcing them to take down their “false” reviews and paying an undisclosed amount of money.

Most recently, the physician filed suit in November 2020 against nine anonymous Yelp account-holders. According to the complaint, from November 2019 to August 2020, the users posted several reviews that contained statements that harmed his practice by making untrue and libelous comments.

In the present case we are discussing filed against the Yelp reviewer, the judge found that statements such as the physician “diluted” injectables and deceived patients about pricing to be factual statements. (The physician is apparently one who performs cosmetic procedures on patients like using botox and fillers.) Therefore, if they were false statements, as the physician alleged, this establishes a prima facie claim for defamation that courts have the authority to hear. According to the court’s order: “Because Plaintiff has alleged a prima facie case . . . and they cannot identify John Doe[s] without a court-ordered subpoena, the Court agrees that there is good cause to allow for early discovery.”  Click here to view the court’s opinion on our website.

I see this as a positive occurrence. Too often reviewers on Yelp, Google, Glass Door, and other such websites post egregious comments amounting to character assassination and libel, because they believe they can remain anonymous. And the owners of the websites fight tooth and toenail to avoid any liability and to avoid any co-operation when justice is sought by those harmed by their actions. We have had a number of cases we have handled where a “reviewer” uses a phony name and creates a phony user account just for the purpose of making a libelous, damaging review. Then, if caught, they just create a new phony account and re-post the same thing again. If the major carriers and websites like Yelp, Google, Bing, AOL, and Glass Door, want to remain free of liability, then they should co-operate when a person has to hire a lawyer and pursue legal action in order to obtain justice.

Is This Abusing the Legal System in An Effort to Stifle Free Speech?

Yelp reportedly warns users of the physician’s previous attempts to sue over negative reviews in a “Consumer Alert” pop-up notice on the doctor’s review page. Additionally, it reminds users, “reviewers who share their experiences have a First Amendment right to express their opinions on Yelp.”

Unlike a newspaper or television outlet, Yelp, Google, Glass Door, and other Internet carriers and websites enjoy immunity from liability for what they allow to be posted because of a federal law that protects them. Why are they given such a big advantage over more traditional media outlets? Why should they be?

In a separate lawsuit, a judge denied the effort by the same doctor to reveal the anonymous reviewer who wrote: “Cheap product and he’s absolutely not experienced nor does he care!!!!!” Yelp argued that the review is not defamatory as there is no statement of fact that can be proven true or false. The court agreed and found that the review used a “loose, figurative tone,” suggesting that the author expressed opinions rather than facts based on a negative experience.

Therefore, according to the court, the plaintiff was not able to make “a sufficient showing of prima facie defamation.” Click here to read the judge’s order in full in that case.

I disagree with the court’s ruling, however. Whether or not the physician has any experience is certainly a fact. It can easily be proven or disproven. It seems that if a doctor hung up a sign that said “Absolutely no Experience,” this would be perceived by most reasonable people to be a negative thing. I doubt that many people would be attracted to that doctor or his practice.

Key Takeaway From the Case.

The key takeaway from this case is that contrary to what Yelp’s pop-up notice implies, Yelp’s users have “implicitly agreed” to the release of their personal data if ordered by a court.

To learn more about fighting negative reviews on websites like Yelp as a healthcare professional, click here to read my prior blog.

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

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, Durable Medical Equipment suppliers, medical students and interns, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. We represent facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions.

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 and Board of Osteopathic Medicine hearings. We represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, in patient complaints and in Department of Health investigations.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Capriel, Jonathan. “Doc Can Subpoena Yelp User Info In Botox Defamation Suit.” Law360. (October 7, 2021). Web.

Marza, Mike. “Manhattan doctor sues over Yelp reviews he says are false.” ABC 7NY. (November 19, 2019). Web.

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., Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Dental Office Manager Sentenced to 12 Months in Prison for Defrauding Medicaid Out of More Than $813,000

Attorney Carole C. Schriefer Headshot

By Carole C. Schriefer, J.D.

On October 1, 2021, a former dental office manager was sentenced to 12 months in prison for her role in a Medicaid fraud scheme. Mahsa Azimirad, was the office manager for Universal Smiles, a D.C.-based dental practice, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Washington, D.C.

She was indicted in January 2019, along with the dentist who ran the practice. The dentist pleaded guilty in May 2021 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and reportedly admitted that she received over $813,000 through false billings.


The Fraudulent Billing Scheme.

Both the office manager and the dentist were alleged to have participated in a scheme to defraud the D.C. Medicaid Program through their operation of the dental practice. The dentist was a Medicaid provider. As part of the scheme, it is alleged that both of them proceeded to bill Medicaid for thousands of provisional crowns, a significant number of which were allegedly not actually provided to the patients. From August 2012 through February 2014, D.C. Medicaid reportedly paid Universal Smiles approximately $5.4 million in Medicaid reimbursement. Of that amount, it is alleged that the office manager received approximately $813,184.

As part of the sentence, she has been ordered to pay back the full amount she received and will be on three years of supervised release following the completion of her prison term.

Click here to read the press release by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and learn more.

To read about a similar case that also deals with a healthcare professional, click here to read my prior blog.


Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Medicaid Audits and Investigations of Dentists and Healthcare Professionals.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to dentists, dental hygienists, physicians, medical groups, nurses, nurse practitioners, CRNAs, physical therapists, behavior analysts, pharmacists, psychologists, mental health counselors, health care facilities, and other health providers in Medicaid and Medicare investigations, audits, fraud charges, and recovery actions.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.


Sources:

Martin, Colleen. “Rockville Woman Defrauded Medicaid At Dental Office: US Attorney.” Patch. (October 4, 2021). Web.

Bethesda Beat Staff Reporter. “Rockville woman to serve prison term over D.C. Medicaid fraud.” Bethesda Magazine. (October 4, 2021). Web.

About the Author: Carole C. Schriefer is an attorney and former registered nurse. She practices with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its regional office is in the Northern Colorado, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 155 East Boardwalk Drive, Fort Collins, Colorado 80525. Phone: (970) 416-7456 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

By |2023-01-26T19:00:22-05:00January 28, 2023|Categories: Dental Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

California Dental Practice Pays $23,000 Settlement For Potential HIPAA Privacy Violations Involving Yelp Posts

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

On December 14, 2022, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) settled with New Vision Dental (NVD) over a potential HIPAA Privacy violation. The California-based dental practice paid $23,000 to OCR and agreed to implement a corrective action plan after allegedly including protected health information (PHI) in its responses to reviews on Yelp.

The Complaint and Investigation.

On November 29, 2017, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) received a complaint alleging New Vision Dental had posted responses to several unfavorable reviews by patients on Yelp and frequently disclosed confidential protected health information (PHI) in its responses. For example, in some posts, patients were allegedly identified, and NVD revealed their full names when the patient may have only chosen to use a made-up name on the platform. Other information allegedly posted included detailed information about the patient’s visits, treatment, and health insurance, when that information had not been posted publicly by the patient.

The federal agency’s investigation found potential violations of the HIPAA Privacy Rule, including impermissible uses and disclosures of PHI and failures to provide adequate Notice of Privacy Practices and implement Privacy policies and procedures. “This latest enforcement action demonstrates the importance of following the law even when you are using social media. Providers cannot disclose protected health information of their patients when responding to negative online reviews. This is a clear ‘NO,’” said OCR Director Melanie Fontes Rainer in a statement.

To read more, click here for the press release from the HHS.

In addition to the settlement, NVD agreed to implement a corrective action plan (CAP) that will be monitored for two years by OCR. As part of its CAP, the dental practice agreed to develop, revise, and maintain written policies and procedures to comply with federal privacy and security standards. All workforce members will also receive training on those policies and procedures, and NVD is required to remove all social media postings that include PHI.

The resolution agreement and CAP can be viewed here.

Guidelines for Appropriate use of Social Media and Social Networking.

Healthcare professionals are discouraged from interacting with current or past patients on personal social networking sites and should never, under any circumstances, reveal personal information about the patient or the patient’s treatment or care. Online interaction with patients should only occur when discussing the patient’s medical treatment within the physician-patient relationship and with written, signed consent by the patient to use e-mail or other online services for such messaging. These interactions should never occur on personal social networking or social media websites.

Patient privacy must be protected at all times, especially on social media and social networking websites. Breaches in patient confidentiality could harm the patient and violate federal privacy laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and applicable state privacy laws.

Failure to Comply With HIPAA Can Result in Both Civil and Criminal Penalties.

This penalty was the 21st financial penalty to be imposed by OCR in 2022 to resolve HIPAA violations, more than in any other year since it was given the authority to enforce HIPAA compliance. With the increased popularity and availability of social media platforms also comes an increase in potential privacy violations. To read a previous blog I wrote on this, click here.

If Notified of a HIPAA Investigation or Audit, Consult an Experience Health Law Attorney Immediately.

If you receive notice that you have a HIPAA Privacy Complaint, are suspected of a HIPAA breach, or are subject to a HIPAA audit, consult with an experienced health care attorney immediately. There are many technicalities to these laws and regulations, and what may initially seem like a violation may be proven to be nothing. Many defenses can be raised, and often a complaint may be dismissed by the OCR once the correct facts are shown to it by your attorney.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late, Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Defending HIPAA Complaints and Violations.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers and institutions in investigating and defending alleged HIPAA complaints and violations and in preparing Corrective Action Plans (CAPs).

For more information about HIPAA violations, electronic health records or corrective action plans (CAPs) please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free (888) 331-6620.

Sources:

Alder, Steve. “OCR Fines California Dental Practice for PHI Disclosures on Yelp.” HIPAA Journal. (December 14, 2022). Web.

McKeon, Jill. “OCR Settles Potential HIPAA Violation After Dental Practice Discloses PHI on Yelp.” Health Care It News. (December 14, 2022).

Health News Weekly. “California Dental Practice Pays $23,000 to Resolve Potential HIPAA Violations Involving Social Media Posts.” AHLA. (December 16, 2022). Web.

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. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

Current Open Positions with The Health Law Firm. The Health Law Firm always seeks qualified individuals interested in health law. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. If you are a current member of The Florida Bar or a qualified professional who is interested, please forward a cover letter and resume to: [email protected] or fax them to (407) 331-3030.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2023 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

By |2023-01-17T11:36:47-05:00January 17, 2023|Categories: Dental Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments
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