Three People Charged For $109 Million Scheme to Defraud Medicare & HIPAA Violations

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

In October 2020, Massachusetts federal prosecutors charged three people for their alleged roles in a multi-million dollar plot to defraud Medicare. Two individuals allegedly collected patient data and sold it to the purported mastermind, who used it to submit $109 million in false claims.

The two individuals who allegedly obtained the patient information were both located in Florida, wouldn’t ya know. They were each charged with one count of receiving more than $1.6 million kickbacks in connection with a federal health care program. Prosecutors charged the third individual with criminal violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Fraudulently Collecting & Using Private Patient Information.

According to court documents, both individuals in Florida owned marketing companies that enlisted foreign call centers to contact Medicare beneficiaries. Using a prepared script, they allegedly asked the patients they called if they would be interested in receiving durable medical equipment (DME) such as knee braces or compression sleeves “at little to no cost.”

The call centers would then collect information, including the patient’s name, address, insurance number, Medicare number, and doctor’s name and address, prosecutors said. The information was then sold to the third individual, who filed fraudulent Medicare claims for DME that were never prescribed and not medically necessary.

According to court records, the alleged co-conspirators used the same patients’ information repeatedly through a different shell company each time. More than 1,000 of the claims were made under the names of deceased beneficiaries. Click here to view the criminal information in this case.

Read the DOJ’s press release on this case for additional information.

Also, you can read one of my prior blogs on a similar case in Florida.

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

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent durable medical equipment (DME) suppliers and other health care providers in Medicare audits, ZPIC audits, MAC audits, and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S. They also health care providers in qui tam or False Claims Act (whistleblower) litigation and in other complex medical litigation. They also represent DME suppliers, 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 programs, They represent health care providers in formal and informal administrative hearings, federal or state.

For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free (888) 331-6620.

Sources:

Sinay, Reenat. “Feds Charge 3 In Alleged $109M Medicare Fraud Scheme.” Law360. (October 2, 2020). Web.

Szaniszlo, Marie. “Three charged in multi-million dollar fraud scheme.” Sentinel Enterprise. (October 2, 2020). 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 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

By |2021-02-24T10:50:35-05:00April 7th, 2021|Categories: Mental Health Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Simple Rules for Keeping Your License and Avoiding Complaints for Counselors and Psychotherapists

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

I represent many mental health counselors, social workers, psychologists, and professional counselors, defending them on complaints being investigated against their professional licenses. Many complaints and investigations arise because the therapist has strayed over the line and crossed the therapist-client boundary. In reviewing these cases, I have drawn up a list of a few simple “bright line” rules that can help save you many hours of stress and mental anguish as well as thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees and costs defending yourself

These “rules” may seem to be common sense, but there they are, anyway:

1. DO NOT ever meet the client at an outside social activity or attend a social event with the client. This includes “just dinner” or “just-drinks.”

2. DO NOT text the client. Texting is not secure and leads to casual and unprofessional thinking and conversation with the client. Many health care institutions prohibit their physicians and employees from texting with clients because of the HIPAA Security and Privacy Rules. You can use that as an excuse if you need one.

3. DO take a screenshot and print out the text when you violate the above rule. Place it in the client’s health record because you will probably be seeing it again, attached to a complaint.

4. DO send an e-mail or, better yet, a professional letter to the client, instead of texting the client. Print out a copy and place it in the client’s health record, because you will probably see it again.

5. DO NOT EVER make any suggestive or sexual remarks to the client in any communications, oral or written or text, or e-mail. In fact, DON’T even think about it. This includes off-color jokes and comments.

6. DO immediately terminate the relationship with the client, transferring care to a different therapist, if the client suggests anything of a sexual nature involving you.

7. DO NOT talk about other clients with the client.

8. DO NOT talk about your own personal life with the client. Especially DO NOT let the client have your personal home address or personal e-mail address.

9. DO NOT ever have sex with a client or former client. DO NOT even think of it. If you start to think of it, see Rule 6, above. Consider clients and former clients “off-limits” no matter how much you are tempted. If you are religious, just consider this as an attempt by Satan to seduce you. If it works, you are going to be in Hell, even before you die.

10. DO know what professional boundaries are and DO NOT cross them. This includes allowing a personal relationship to grow between you and the client, and includes selling anything to the client (e.g., Girl Scout cookies, tickets to a charitable event, Amway products, candy bars for your kids’ school band, etc.), agreeing to meet the client at any outside event, accepting gifts from the client, hiring the client to work for you, accepting “voluntary” services from the client (including volunteering to work in your office). If you need a friend that bad, terminate the therapist-client relationship and see Rule 6, above.

11. DO know that if you have even a suspicion that your therapist-client relationship is getting out of bounds, then it already is out of bounds. See Rule 6, above.

12. DO call a professional therapist colleague who is more senior to you and consult her or him about the “situation” if you think there may be a “situation.”

These may sound like “no-brainers” to you, but you would be surprised at how many complaints against licensed counselors and psychologists there are as a result of violating one or more of these “rules.”

(Note: These “rules” are just guidelines meant to help you keep out of trouble; these are not meant to be enforced against anyone, nor do they create or represent any “standard of care.”)

For additional information on how our firm can assist you in matters like this, click here to read one of our prior blogs.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced Investigations of Mental Health Counselors, Psychologists, Social Workers, and Family Therapists.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to mental health counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and family therapists in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) investigations, board hearings, FBI investigations, and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers. 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.

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

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

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, 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.

 

 

By |2021-03-26T09:38:32-04:00March 26th, 2021|Categories: In the Know, In the News, Mental Health Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Eight Legal Tips If You Are Having Academic, Disciplinary or Legal Problems with Your Residency Program

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

Here are some tips to set the record straight on various inaccurate information I have heard from physicians in medical residency programs in representing them in appeals of disciplinary actions including suspension and terminations.

1. Nothing you tell your Program Director, advisor, mentors, attendings, senior resident, or co-resident is confidential. Go ahead and pour your heart out about all of your problems and concerns, but none of it is confidential, even if you said it was “in confidence.” What is confidential: what you tell your priest or religious adviser (preacher, rabbi, imam) and what you tell your own personal physician or psychotherapist (unless you have signed a waiver) that you have hired and you are paying. Anyone else, it is not confidential. So if you tell your program director you were raped when you were younger, not confidential. If you tell your senior resident you suffer from panic attacks, not confidential. You tell your attending that you had cancer ten years ago, not confidential. This applies no matter what “magic words” you attach to it.

2. Take and use whatever time period is offered to you to retain counsel and prepare. If you are given ten (10) days to file an appeal or a request for hearing, take the full ten (10) days. Do not file it on the same day. Otherwise, you are using up valuable preparation time that you cannot get back.

3. Make sure that whatever you are required to file is actually received by the due date indicated. If a request for a hearing must be filed within fifteen (15) days, that means that it must be received within the fifteen days. Check after you send it or deliver it to make sure it has been successfully received.

4. It is never too early to hire an attorney. Hire an attorney to represent and advise you at the first sign of trouble. However, you must be sure to hire an attorney who is experienced in representing residents and fellows in disputes with graduate medical education programs. An experienced attorney can help you prepare any written submissions you make, organize your response and any documents you care to submit, and otherwise assist you in identifying what is relevant and what is not relevant.

5. Always read your program’s graduate medical education (GME) manual, residency manual, due process policy or whatever handbook or manual contains your hearing and appeal rights. Be familiar with them and follow them.

6. If you are given remedial actions you must take, documents your completion of each one. Whether the requirement you must perform is in a corrective action plan (CAP), a remediation letter, or a probation letter, document your completion of it in writing and report it to whatever authority gave you the requirement. Send a courtesy copy (“cc”) to your program director.

7. Make sure any correspondence you send to anyone is complete, correct and in the form of a professional business letter. Make sure it meets all of the requirements of a professional business letter. This is especially true for rebuttals, appeals, hearing requests, etc. What, you don’t know what this is? Then go online and Google it. Your letter should look very similar to any letter you received from your program director or institution. Be sure it has all of your return contact information on it as well as a date. Do not start your letter with “Hi,” “Hello,” or “Good day.” Do place a reference (“Re:”) line or subject line on your letter that states what the subject of your letter is.

8. Do not be afraid to appeal, file a discrimination complaint or exercise any of your legal rights. Often I hear from residents, after they are already terminated from their program, that they are afraid to get a lawyer involved. I usually ask: “What are you afraid of? What is the worst that can happen? You have already been terminated.” Remember, also, that if your program retaliates against you for exercising any of your rights, that is illegal. The ACGME would like to hear about that and in almost all cases, you will then have a legal cause of action upon which you can sue the program.

Contact a Health Care Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Medical Resident Physicians, Fellows, Medical Students, Dental Students and Residents, Pharmacy Students and Residents, Mental Health Counselor Interns, and other health professionals. The attorneys of The Health Law Firm, also represent those applicants accused of irregular behavior by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Secretariat, and the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), in responses, hearings and appeals, including on charges of “unprofessional conduct” and “improper behavior.”

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys have experience representing such individuals and those in graduate medical education programs in various disputes regarding their academic and clinical performance, allegations of substance abuse, failure to complete integral parts training, alleged false or incomplete statements on applications, allegations of impairment (because of abuse or addiction to drugs or alcohol or because of mental or physical issues), because of discrimination due to race, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, and any other matters.

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.

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 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.

 

 

Three People Charged For Roles in $109 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme, HIPAA Violations

George F. Indest III with 30+ years of experience, is Board Certified in Health Law

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

In October 2020, Massachusetts federal prosecutors charged three individuals for their alleged roles in a multi-million dollar plot to defraud Medicare. Two individuals allegedly collected patient health data and sold it to the purported mastermind, who then used it to submit $109 million in false Medicare claims.

Both individuals obtaining the personal health information were located in Florida, wouldn’t you know it. Each was charged with one count of receiving more than $1.6 million kickbacks in connection with a federal health care program. Prosecutors charged the third individual with criminal violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Stealing and selling personal health information is one of those HIPAA violations that will really, really get you in trouble. Very few people even know that such a HIPAA violation can be prosecuted as a federal felony crime.

Fraudulently Collecting & Using Patient Information.

According to court documents, both individuals in Florida owned marketing companies that enlisted foreign call centers to contact Medicare beneficiaries (which, I believe, I have received a number of). Using a prepared script, they allegedly asked if patients would be interested in receiving durable medical equipment (DME) such as knee braces or compression sleeves “at little to no cost.” (Does: “We are calling because of your back pain,” sound familiar?)

The call centers would then collect information including the Medicare patient’s name, address, insurance number, and doctor’s name and address, prosecutors said. The information was then sold to the third individual, who used it to file fraudulent Medicare claims for the DME that was never prescribed by a legitimate physician and was not medically necessary.

According to court records, the alleged co-conspirators used the same patients’ information repeatedly through a different shell company each time. More than 1,000 of the claims were made under the names of deceased beneficiaries. (Click here if you are deceased).

Click here to view the criminal information in this case.

Read the DOJ’s press release for more information.

Also, read one of my prior blogs on a similar case in Florida.

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

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent physicians, durable medical equipment (DME) suppliers, and other health care providers in Medicare audits, investigations and subpoenas, ZPIC audits, subpoenas and investigations, MAC audits, RAC audits, Department of Health (DOH) subpoenas and investigations, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) subpoenas and investigations, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) subpoenas, audits and investigations, OIG subpoenas, audits and investigations, and Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) subpoenas, audits, and investigations, in Florida, Colorado, Louisiana, the District of Columbia, Virginia, and throughout Florida and across the U.S. They also represent DME suppliers, physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals, and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions, termination from the Medicare or Medicaid program, and state and federal administrative hearings and litigation.

For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free (888) 331-6620.

Sources:

Sinay, Reenat. “Feds Charge 3 In Alleged $109M Medicare Fraud Scheme.” Law360. (October 2, 2020). Web.

Szaniszlo, Marie. “Three charged in multi-million dollar fraud scheme.” Sentinel Enterprise. (October 2, 2020). 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 © 2021 The Health Law

DOJ Charges 345 People Involved in More Than $6 Billion in Fraud, Related to Telemedicine and Opioid Prescriptions

George F. Indest III with 30+ years experience, is board certified by the Florida Bar in Health Law.By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

In September 2020, federal prosecutors charged 345 doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals allegedly involved in more than $6 billion in healthcare fraud. It is considered the largest Health Care Fraud and Opioid Enforcement Action in the Department of Justice’s history (DOJ). The schemes were related to telemedicine, illegal opioid distribution, and durable medical equipment, the DOJ said.

A National Fraud Operation.

According to the DOJ, the 345 defendants were responsible for submitting false and fraudulent claims that cost more than $6 billion to federal health care programs and private insurers. It included $4.5 billion related to telemedicine fraud, $1.5 billion connected to sober homes, and over $806 million linked to illegal opioid distribution and other forms of Medicare fraud.

Telemedicine fraud charges made up the bulk of the nationwide bust. A total of 86 defendants were telehealth executives who allegedly paid medical professionals to order unnecessary amounts of durable medical equipment, genetic tests, and pain medications.

The sober homes cases include charges against more than 12 defendants for allegedly submitting false claims for tests and treatments for patients with drug and alcohol problems. The defendants allegedly paid illegal kickbacks and bribes for the referral of hundreds of patients to substance abuse treatment facilities.

Similarly, included in the charges were health professionals and others involved in distributing more than 30 million doses of opioids and other prescription narcotics. These charges have already resulted in guilty pleas by more than 240 of the defendants.

The historic law enforcement action was put in motion in April 2020 and aimed to crack down on classic health care fraud schemes. The DOJ executes “takedowns” every year to spotlight concerns about fraud in certain areas by grouping similar schemes together. Since its establishment in 2007, it has charged more than 4,200 defendants who defrauded Medicare for more than $19 billion, the agency said.

Click here to read the press release issued by the DOJ.

To read about a similar record-breaking telehealth fraud case in Florida, click here.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Medicare Audits, Investigations and other Legal Proceedings.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in defending audits and investigations by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice, The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Florida Department of Health (DOH), the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), state boards of medicine, state boards of pharmacy, and state boards of nursing. They also represent health professionals and providers in administrative litigation (state and federal) and civil litigation (state and federal). They represent physicians, nurses, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, dentists, pharmacies, assisted living facilities, and other healthcare providers and institutions in recovery actions and termination from Medicare and Medicaid Programs.

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

Sources:

Allen, Jackie. “DOJ charges 345 people involve in more than $6 billion healthcare fraud.” USA Herald. (October 3, 2020). Web.

Stawicki, Keven. “DOJ Charges 345 In Health Fraud Schemes Topping $6B.” Law360. (September 30, 2020). 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 © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

Florida Defends Marijuana Law in High-Stakes State Supreme Court Battle

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

On May 6, 2020, in a highly-important case for the medical marijuana industry in Florida, the state defended its regulatory framework before the Florida supreme court. The case focuses on whether Florida has properly carried out a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana for patients. The Florida Department of Health (DOH) argues that there is no conflict between the voter-approved medical marijuana amendment and the state’s caps on providers.

Ongoing Battle in the Courts.

The case primarily centers on a requirement that the Legislature put in the 2017 law about marijuana firms allowed to operate in the state. That requirement says the companies must be able to handle all aspects of the business, including growing, processing, and distributing products. The Florida DOH appealed to the Supreme Court after lower courts sided with Florigrown, a Tampa-based company. For several years, Florigrown has unsuccessfully sought approval to become a licensed medical-marijuana operator in Florida. Click here to read my prior blog and learn more.

Arguing Over Semantics.

The key part of the case focuses on the text of the amendment in determining whether the vertical integration model is proper. The language in question is the difference in the words “or” and “and” in the amendment’s definition of a medical marijuana treatment center (MMTC).

The constitutional amendment defined MMTCs as “an entity that acquires, cultivates, possesses, processes … transfers, transports, sells, distributes, dispenses, or administers marijuana, products containing marijuana, related supplies, or educational materials.”

Meanwhile, the implementing 2017 law defines MMTCs as an entity that “cultivates, processes, transports and dispenses marijuana for medical use.”

Florigrown argues that the switch from “or” to “and” creates wording that establishes the vertically integrated system, as it establishes a need to perform all aspects of the business.

In its defense, the Florida DOH argued that the 2017 law does not directly conflict with a “proper, textual interpretation” of the constitutional amendment and directly calls for regulations on the availability and safe use of the substance.

To read more on this ongoing case and Florigrown’s lawsuit, click here to read my prior blog.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys for Medical and Recreational Marijuana Concerns.

The Health Law Firm attorneys can assist health care providers and facilities, such as doctors, pharmacists, and pharmacies, wanting to participate in the medical marijuana industry. We can properly draft and complete the applications for registration, permitting and/or licensing, while complying with Florida law. We can also represent doctors, pharmacies and pharmacists facing proceedings brought by state regulators or agencies.

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

Sources:

Saunders, Jim. “Case challenging Florida law on medical marijuana licenses may hinge on ‘and’ vs. ‘or’.” Miami Herald. (May 6, 2020).

Bolado, Carolina. “Fla. Defends Medical Pot Regulations Before State High Court.” Law360. (May 6, 2020). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with 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.

“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.

Florida Department of Health Claims Orchid Nursery Has No Constitutional Protection In Pot Licenses

George Indest HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On August 27, 2020, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) argued to the United States Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals that a Florida nursery can’t claim the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects its right to marijuana licenses. The DOH urged the appellate court to uphold the dismissal of Louis Del Favero Orchids’ suit because, it claimed, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t cover a property interest in a business that is illegal under federal law. This seems to be a rather hypocritical argument in that the counter-question could be “How can the state of Florida issue licenses for or control a business that is illegal under federal law?”

Is the Law Constitutionally Protected?

The would-be medical pot nursery operator has been fighting since 2016 to get one of the state’s few medical marijuana licenses. It has been involved in ongoing litigation in state court over Florida’s medical marijuana licensing process.

The nursery claims that the U.S. Constitution protects a property right to the licenses even if Congress has outlawed marijuana because the right itself is created by state law. In its suit, Louis Del Favero Orchids said that the property right itself originates in Florida state law, specifically, the law that legalized medical marijuana. Federal law can only determine “whether a given property interest rises to the level of a protected property interest,” the nursery argued in its brief.

According to the nursery’s brief, it sought damages and an injunction requiring the state of Florida to grant the company a hearing on its application for a medical marijuana license. You can read the nursery’s brief here.

Property Right in the “Process of” the Issuance of a Medical Marijuana License?

The Florida nursery filed its case first in federal court in June 2019. But in November 2019, the federal judge threw out the suit, deciding that the company had a property interest in the pot license under state law, but not under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The lower court decided that if Congress has legislated that marijuana is against the law, then it can’t be property protected by the U.S. Constitution. As a result, this decision, the nursery quickly appealed the ruling to the Eleventh Circuit.

In the brief it filed in the Court of Appeals, the Florida DOH urged the Eleventh Circuit to uphold the district court’s decision. It argued that not only is the right to a medical pot license not protected by the 14th Amendment, but there’s no property right in the process of medical marijuana licensure, the DOH told the court.

Click here to read the Florida DOH’s brief in full.

What the case does not discuss is the fact the Florida Constitution contains a provision identical to the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in its Article 1, Section 9, which states: “Due process.—No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. . . .” However, if the federal court’s decision stands, then this would be a matter solely based on Florida law and not one for the federal courts.

To learn more about their ongoing litigation in Florida involving medical marijuana issues, click here.

Click here to go to our Marijuana Law Blog page and read my prior blog on this subject to learn more.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys for Medical and Recreational Marijuana Concerns.

The Health Law Firm attorneys can assist health care providers and facilities, such as doctors, pharmacists, and pharmacies, wanting to participate in the medical marijuana industry. We can properly draft and complete the applications for registration, permitting, and/or licensing while complying with Florida law. We can also represent doctors, pharmacies, and pharmacists facing proceedings brought by state regulators or agencies.

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:

Jones, Diana. “No Constitutional Right To Pot Licenses, Fla. Tells 11th Circ.” Law360. (August 27, 2020). Web.

Jones, Diana. “Nursery Tells 11th Circ. Pot License Constitutionally Protected.” Law360. (June 29, 2020). 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 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.

Veterans Want Federal Court To Reconsider DEA Marijuana Classification

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

On October 1, 2020, military veterans urged the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) restrictive marijuana classification. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) said in an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief that designating the drug a highly controlled substance has impeded medical research that could save lives.

Marijuana Claimed to Be a “Life-saving Treatment” for Veterans.

IAVA’s brief focused on suicide rates among returning soldiers. The group claimed the current status of marijuana on the drug schedules, listing it as a Schedule I drug, one without any medical use, under federal law inhibits studies to demonstrate its potential in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to the IAVA’s brief, the Schedule I status of marijuana prevents the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and private practitioners from studying the benefits and risks of medical marijuana. This results in keeping life-saving treatment away from veterans suffering from PTSD who reside in states where they are not available.

The brief stated that 40% of veterans experience some form of PTSD that is not helped by treatments approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In 2019, IAVA conducted a survey showing that 20% of respondents used marijuana for medicinal purposes. Additionally, 90% of survey respondents support expanding clinical research for medical uses, and 90% would use it if it were an option.

To read IAVA’s amicus brief in full, click here.

Click here to read my recent blog on a proposed medical marijuana research bill.

Schedule I Drug.

Marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug on the federal drug schedules. “Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Some examples of Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Anyone viewing these drugs objectively would come to the conclusion that marijuana is simply not like the others.

It Is High Time for a Change.

Many veterans have returned from overseas combat severely affected by PTSD and other mental disorders. There is simply not enough available care through the VA to take care of them all. Moreover, many of these suffer from illnesses making them paranoid or suspicious of even seeking such care. Many are homeless. Many are able to function, some normal and some almost normally, by self-medicating with marijuana.

As more and more states authorize medical marijuana, the federal government should acknowledge that there is some benefit to its use and reclassify it. It is simply common sense. Too long has the public labored under the unjust and unsupportable assumption that incorrectly categorizes it as a Schedule I drug. It needs to be moved to Schedule V or Schedule IV. Medical bills would go down, drug bills would go down, and legitimate physicians, even federal physicians, would be allowed to prescribe it.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys for Medical Marijuana Regulatory Matters and Other Health Care Licensing Matters.

The Health Law Firm attorneys can assist health care providers and facilities, such as doctors, pharmacists, and pharmacies, wanting to participate in the medical marijuana industry. We can properly draft and complete the applications for registration, permitting, and/or licensing while complying with Florida law. We can also represent doctors, pharmacies, and pharmacists facing proceedings brought by state regulators or agencies. We represent health-related businesses and medical professionals in all types of licensing and regulatory matters, including state and federal administrative hearings.

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:

Reisman, Sam. “Veterans Urge 9th Circ. To Hear Challenge To DEA’s Pot Status.” Law360. (October 7, 2020). Web.

Jeager, Kyle. “Military Veterans Group Asks Federal Court To Hear Marijuana Case Challenging DEA Classification.” Marijuana Moment. (October 8, 2020). 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 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 © 2020 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

New Sweeping Privacy Legislation Announced: The SAFE DATA Act

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

On September 17, 2020, Republican members of the Senate Commerce Committee introduced sweeping federal privacy legislation. The proposed law is called the Setting an American Framework to Ensure Data Access, Transparency, and Accountability (SAFE DATA) Act. The Act is a combination of bills previously introduced in the Senate: the Consumer Data Protection Act, Filter Bubble Transparency Act, and the Deceptive Experiences to Online Users Reduction Act. It hasn’t passed, yet, so let’s wait and see.

HAH! You thought you had learned all of the acronyms and abbreviations because you know what HIPAA, HITECH, FERPA, USCDPA, and FOIA mean. Let’s see how long it takes you to remember what this one stands for.

Details of the SAFE DATA Act.

This proposed legislation has three main components if passed into actual law. It:

1. Provides consumers with more choice and control over their data (allegedly),
2. Directs business to be more transparent and accountable (allegedly), and
3. Strengthens the FTC’s enforcement power (allegedly).

The Act would provide consumer rights, such as access, notice, deletion, opting-out, correction, and a right to data portability. It also prohibits covered entities from discriminating against consumers who utilize some of the proposed rights. It will prohibit organizations from denying goods or services to individuals because they have exercised any of their rights as set forth in the bill.

Implementation of the bill would be financed through a $100 million appropriation to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce its provisions. Therefore, the FTC would gain the authority to obtain injunctions and impose other sanctions for violations.

Integrating Other Privacy Bill Provisions.

The SAFE DATA Act incorporates three main bill provisions into the proposal.

First, it includes the Filter Bubble Transparency Act (don’t ask). It requires a notice on public-facing websites that use algorithmic ranking systems

Second, it contains provisions from the Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction (“DETOUR”) bill (ouch!). This provision makes it unlawful for an online service with more than 100 million authenticated users to use a user interface to impair user autonomy.

Third, like the United States Consumer Data Privacy Act (CDPA), the proposal requires companies to obtain affirmative, express consent from the customer before processing or transferring individuals’ sensitive data.

According to Julie Brill, former Commissioner of the FTC, a comprehensive privacy law would also address consent and collection issues related to COVID-19 health data, while at the same time promoting racial equality and prohibiting data discrimination. Boy, that’s great; who knew this was likely to be accomplished in our lifetimes.

View the proposed Safe Data Act in full.

You may also read one of my prior blogs to learn more about HIPAA privacy rights violations and medical confidentiality.


Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Defending HIPAA Complaints and Violations.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals, 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:

Cox, Ayeisha. “Lawmakers Introduce the SAFE DATA Act.” American Health Lawyers Association (AHLA). (October 2, 2020). Web.

Traylor. Christian. “Federal Data Privacy Legislation: Will it Help the US Remain Competitive in the Global Marketplace?” JD Supra. (September 29, 2020). Web.

Panakal, Dominic Dhil. “Senate Republicans Stitch Together Safe Data Ideas into New Bill.” The National Law Review. (September 24, 2020).

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 © 2020 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Florida Dentist’s COVID-19 Interruption Insurance Claim Dismissed by Judge

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

On September 3, 2020, a Florida federal judge dismissed a suit for business interruption insurance payments by a Florida dentist. The dentist claimed he sustained damages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and related civil authority shutdowns of dental services. The dismissal freed Allied Insurance Company of America from having to pay the dentist’s for COVID-19 related losses, holding that the policy’s “virus exclusion” barred coverage of the insurance claim made.

Insurance Coverage for COVID-19 Related Losses.

The dentist sued his insurance carrier for damages that he argued were “caused by or result[ing] from a Covered Cause of Loss.” The causes of the alleged loss, he maintained, included the COVID-19 virus’s impact on his dental practice and the Florida governor’s emergency declaration that limited dental services during a period of time. Specifically, he claimed that he incurred costs to decontaminate his dental office and lost valuable income because of the governor’s dental services limitation. The dentist alleged that Allied breached the insurance contract by denying coverage in April.

Allied’s insurance policy provides coverage “for direct physical loss or damage to covered property at the [plaintiff’s] premises” that is “caused by or result[s] from any Covered Cause of Loss.” Allied argued that there was no direct physical loss or damage to covered property at the clinic due to appointment cancellations or the closure of the dental practice.

Dismissal of the Law Suit.

U.S. District Court Judge John Badalamenti, for the Middle District of Florida, dismissed the case. He found that the dental practice’s loss or damage asserted was “not due to a covered cause of loss.” More importantly, he found that the policy contained an exclusion for loss or damage caused “directly or indirectly,” by “[a]ny virus, bacterium or other microorganisms that induces or is capable of inducing physical distress, illness or disease.”

According to the judge’s order, in order for the insurer to provide coverage, losses from business suspension must be caused by direct physical loss or damage. He ruled that the dentist failed to demonstrate what the policy required in order to be a covered loss. To read the order in full, click here.

With such a specific exclusion as this policy contained, it was difficult for the judge in the case to rule any other way.

Litigation on Whether Insurance Policies Should Cover Losses Due to Coronavirus Closures.

This recent Florida dismissal is another in a string of cases where insurers have prevailed in Coronavirus business loss cases, because of similar exclusions in their policies. In a similar case, a Michigan federal judge sided with the insurance company saying it didn’t have to cover a chiropractic office’s COVID-19 claimed losses. Like the case above, the judge said the business failed to allege physical loss and, therefore, the policy’s virus exclusion barred coverage. Click here to read the judge’s order in this case.

According to insurance experts and regulators, most businesses and professionals will probably find it difficult to obtain an insurance payout because of policy changes made after the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak. SARS, which infected 8,000 people, led to millions of dollars in business-interruption insurance claims. As a result, many insurers added exclusions to standard commercial policies for virus losses. The added policy language potentially allows insurance companies to avoid hundreds of billions of dollars in business-interruption claims because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since a wide-scale virus outbreak is such a rare event, most policy purchasers overlooked this exception. There certainly wasn’t any concerted effort to make insureds aware of the exclusion nor to offer them the opportunity to purchase specific virus outbreak insurance coverage.

A global pandemic presents unique problems for insurance companies. After the SARS outbreak at the beginning of this millennium, many insurance companies realized they would not be able to cover such a broad-scale event causing massive losses. Such an event could have damages greater than those sustained in the largest hurricane to strike the U.S. The insurance industry argued to state regulators that such policy exclusions were necessary, considering the overwhelming number of claims that might arise from a single disease outbreak.

This foresight on the part of the insurance companies saved their shareholders billions, if not trillions, of dollars. Unfortunately business and professionals have had to shoulder the losses.

So, it begs the question: Did insurers actually know the potential damage a viral pandemic could wreak on businesses and, therefore, purposefully exclude coverage? Disputes over the precise wording of business insurance policies will most likely continue to generate court battles like those discussed above.

Read my prior blog on this subject to learn more.

Recommendation for the Future.

There are several options that businesses and state insurance regulators should consider to try to prevent such massive losses from going uncompensated in the future.

First would be to create and provide virus damage insurance similar to that provided for flood insurance by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The biggest problem would be that losses could easily exceed the largest hurricane that one could imagine. However, the NFIP has shown this type of plan works.

Second would be similar programs provided at the state level. At the present time, many states, have captive insurance companies to fund losses from wind damage caused by storms. In Florida, the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (CPIC) provides such coverage.

The biggest problem I see with both of the above is that short-sighted and selfish people don’t want to purchase such insurance and, thereby, make it less expensive for all involved. They figure that the government will bail them out anyway in such an event, so why should they pay. Therefore, either making it paid for completely with taxpayer money or a requirement of obtaining a business license or professional license or some combination, may be a way to finance it.

Creating a trust fund with assessments to employers and employees, similar to what is currently done for social security, would be another option. Creating a large trust fund that could cover such tragic events might work best. However, this would have to be made “raider safe” so that Congress does not come back and raid these funds and use them for other purposes like it has done to the United States Postal Service (USPS).

At the very least, some type of universal virus pandemic business loss insurance should be mandated by law or, at least, partially funded by the government. Making it mandatory means making it cheaper and making it work.

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. 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.

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:

Zhang, Daphne. “Fla. Dentist’s Bid For COVID-19 Loss Coverage Axed.” Law360. (September 3, 2020). Web.

Zhang, Daphne. “State Farm Needn’t Cover Chiropractor’s COVID-19 Losses.” Law360. (September 3, 2020). Web.

Frankel, Todd. “Insurers knew the damage a viral pandemic could wreak on businesses. So they excluded coverage.” The Washington Post. (April 2, 2020). 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.

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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 © 2020 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

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