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Emotional Support Animals and Protecting Your License, Pitfalls and Tips, Part 2 of 2

Amanda I. Forbes, J.D.By Amanda I. Forbes, J.D.; and George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified in Health Law

This is part 2 of 2 in a blog series regarding Emotional Support Animals (ESA) support letters being prepared by counselors and therapists. There are serious pitfalls that exist for the unwary mental health professional and, in part 1, we provided a number of tips on how to avoid these. Click here to read part 1.

The ACA has identified specific potential risks to animals, clients, the public, and counselors which everyone involved in this area of practice should be familiar with.

Potential Risks to Animals:

1. Neglect or other abuse; poor mental health on the part of the client may prevent adequate animal care or may promote neglect or abuse.

2. Undue stress may occur to the animal from constant work during accompaniment, including being placed in stressful environments.

3. The animal may suffer undue stress from being handled by a person who does not have specialized training.

4. The animal may suffer an illness, undue stress, or injury from public interactions.

Possible Risks to Clients:

1. Inadequate treatment of a mental health disorder.

2. Injury or property damage from an inadequately trained or socialized animal.

3. Zoonotic infection or disease.

4. Animal allergies in the client, the client’s family, and the client’s associates.

5. Potential fraud or legal concerns if an ESA is misrepresented as a service animal.

6. Financial and emotional burdens due to potential behavior problems associated with inadequately trained and socialized companion animals.

7. Misconception that a relationship with an ESA replaces or substitutes for professional mental health care or human relationships (especially the latter).

Potential Risk to the Public:

1. Injury or emotional damage from inadequately trained animals.

2. Untrained or improperly socialized animals may be more likely to be stressed out or aggressive in public.

3. Unsocialized animals may be disruptive and interfere with normal activities such as group functions, public travel, public dining.

4. Maladaptive interactions with other animals (especially toward service animals)

5. Zoonotic infection or disease from animals.

6. Animal allergies and phobias (yes, some regular people have phobias against dogs, cats, snakes, weasels, alligators, and monkeys).

7. They may contribute to public skepticism, which hurts those with valid helper animals (e.g., someone who has a full-size alligator that she claims is her emotional support animal and takes it everywhere she goes).

8. The more unsuitable the animal, the greater the risk (i.e., exotic pet, undomesticated or wild animal).

9. When more fraudulent animals have greater public access, the more public risk is incurred.

Risks to the Counselor Who Certifies or Approves an Emotional Support Animal:

1. Liability for adverse client outcomes due to inadequate or substandard treatment.
2. Potential provider role conflicts: Forensic v. Counseling.
3. Potential liability for injury/illness caused by the animal to the client or others.
4. Potential charges of fraud if an inadequate evaluation is done to demonstrate the need for the animal, or if performed in the absence of actual supporting facts, or if performed for a fake client who is just making up everything.
5. Disciplinary action taken against your professional license by your licensing board for any of the above.
6. Ethical considerations for inadequate education about ESAs and their role in comprehensive treatment. Potential to be called to testify if the ESA is challenged or if an incident occurs.

Click here for more information.

An additional potential risk that the ACA did not address was the possibility of disciplinary action against your license by your professional board. The reasons for such an action could possibly be from a failure to establish a proper client relationship prior to writing an ESA recommendation letter. It is important to keep these potential risks in mind when determining whether to write an ESA recommendation letter.

Don’t forget to read part 1 of this blog series for more information.

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, social workers, and family therapists in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, FBI investigations, and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers. To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

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

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

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

About the Authors: Amanda I. Forbes, practices health law with The Health Law Firm in its Altamonte Springs, Florida, office. George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified in Health Law by The Florida Bar and is licensed in Louisiana, Florida, and the District of Columbia. He is President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm. 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.

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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.

By |2020-10-01T17:18:25-04:00October 5th, 2020|Categories: In the News, Mental Health Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Certifying Emotional Support Animals and Protecting Your License, Part 1 of 2

Attorney Amanda I. ForbesBy Amanda I. Forbes, J.D., and George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified in Health Law

In today’s stress-filed world if you are a mental health counselor or other professional counselor, it is likely that you will encounter a client seeking to obtain an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)
designation letter from you. Providing such a letter may cause you to face complaints, licensing, and disciplinary actions driven by hostile landlords, homeowners associations, and business establishments that do not want any sort of animals on their premises. Often cases wind up in civil litigation. The client may also try to retaliate against you, should the client be the victim of legal problems because of attempting to keep an ESA and not understanding the legal ramifications.

However, you, as an experienced, licensed mental health professional must know what to do and not to do to protect your license and your career.

This is part 1 of 2 in a blog series regarding Emotional Support Animals. Stay tuned for part two. We also intend to do a follow-up blog series on working animals and how they are legally distinguished from ESAs.

Here are some tips to keep in mind should you decide to provide an ESA recommendation letter:

1. You must develop and document a properly established therapist-client relationship with the client prior to writing a recommendation–do whatever you would normally do for any other client seeking your help who walks in the door.

2. Confirm the actual, true identity of the client to be sure you know with whom you are dealing. Request and obtain at least two different forms of photo ID, one including a driver’s license for the equivalent. Check and verify the name and address on the Internet or with directory assistance. (I have a personal rule of thumb: “If you can’t find a person on the Internet, then he is a fake and does not exist”).

3. Obtain the client’s complete mental health history and medical history, requesting and obtaining other treater’s records just as you would do for any other client/patient.

4. If the client has been referred to you by another provider, especially one in a different medical or health specialty, request a written referral documenting the need for the referral to you.

5. Adequately and thoroughly make and document any decision that an ESA will benefit the client and help in treating any mental health symptoms. Be thorough and document it.

6. Assign a code from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, ed. 5 (DSM-5 ), to the patient, or obtain one from the patient’s regular treating psychiatrist, psychologist, or mental health therapist.

7. The most important element involved is to show that there is an actual medical necessity for the client to have an ESA or that there will be a therapeutic benefit for the client to have the ESA. If you cannot justify and document this, then do not approve the request.

8. Evaluate the ESA, preferably by an in-person meeting or tele-health conference, and determine that it will benefit the client, be sure to document this evaluation and comment on the weight, height, aggressiveness, and character of the ESA. It is most helpful to have a form the ESA’s veterinarian will complete, sign, and return to you for confirmation of this information and, perhaps, an indication that the animal is suitable in character. Keep this in your record.

9. Thoroughly document the above in your chart on the client.

10. Have a thorough knowledge of your state’s laws and professional licensing board’s regulations concerning ESAs. You might review past disciplinary cases in which counselors have received discipline relating to ESAs in your state.

Warning About Organizations that Target Mental Health Counselors, Psychoanalysts, and Professional Counselors Who Approve Emotional Support Animals.

Those mental health counselors, social workers, professional counselors, and therapists who are involved in the certification or approval of emotional support animals and working animals should be advised that there are a number of organizations and individuals out there who seek out and target those who certify or approve such animals. These organizations and individuals see many cases of abuse and improper certifications being used. They see individuals who appear to have no real medical need for such an animal “purchasing” such certifications. They view them as a merely “privileged” individual who merely buys such certification for their pet just so that can take the pet everywhere and garner attention for themselves.

Sometimes these organizations and individuals even pretend to be a patient seeking certification of an emotional support animal or a working animal. They do often contact counselors using fake names and pretending to be fake patients to see how far the therapist will go without even having a real patient. Then they file a complaint with the therapist’s professional board in an attempt to have disciplinary action taken against their license.

Therefore, it is imperative that you follow the tips mentioned in this article.

Guidance from the American Counseling Association:

The American Counseling Association (ACA) published a position paper titled: Emotional Support Animals-Human Animal Interactions in Counseling Interest Network Position Statement.

In that position paper the ACA stated:

As Licensed Professional Counselors, the assessment of DSM-5 diagnoses for human clients is within the scope of practice; however, the added practices of animal behavior, behavior assessment or Human-Animal Interventions are (most often) not. Emotional Support Animal may, in some specific circumstances, provide benefits to humans to minimize identified symptoms often associated with a DSM 5 diagnoses; however, because of the potential risks and unanticipated outcomes, the HAIC strongly suggests that counselors abstain from writing letters for persons seeking counseling or assessments for the sole purpose of obtaining an ESA recommendation letter.

Click here to read the ACA letter in full.

However, if the counselor already has an existing treating relationship with a client and the counselor is considering writing an ESA recommendation letter, then the ASA recommends:

[T]he counselor must have a thorough knowledge of the local, state, and federal laws and policies surrounding ESAs and appropriate knowledge, skills, and attitudes with the subject of therapeutic human-animal interactions before writing such a letter.

Click here to learn more.

The ACA also cautions:

The ACA’s Code of Ethics C.2.e Consultations on Ethical Obligations includes “taking reasonable steps with other counselors, the ACA Ethics and Professional Standards Department, or related professionals when they have questions regarding their ethical obligations or professional practice.” This may include working with animal trainers, behaviorists, or veterinary behaviorists to ensure that the clinician remains within their scope of practice. Since there is no overarching licensing or accrediting body for this matter, nor are there federal or state mandates at this time, the onus is on the clinician to ensure ethical practice.

https://www.unh.edu/sites/default/files/departments/student_accessibility_services_/aca.final_version_esa14556_002.pdf. (Emphasis added).

Don’t forget to read part 2 in this blog series to learn more.

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, social workers, and family therapists in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, FBI investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers. To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

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

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

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620, and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

GEORGE F. INDEST III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M.About the Authors: Amanda I. Forbes, practices health law with The Health Law Firm in its Altamonte Springs, Florida, office. George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified in Health Law by The Florida Bar and is licensed in Louisiana, Florida, and the District of Columbia. He is President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm. 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.

KeyWords: Representation for healthcare professionals, representation for healthcare compliance, representation for healthcare facilities, healthcare facility defense lawyer, healthcare compliance defense attorney, healthcare license defense attorney, Complex Healthcare Litigation, complex healthcare litigation defense lawyer, Complex Business Litigation, Complex Commercial Litigation, Class Action Litigation, medical regulatory defense lawyer, representation for licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs), mental health counselor defense lawyer, licensed professional counselor (LPC) defense attorney lawyer, mental health counselor legal representation, licensed professional counselor (LPC) legal representation, social worker defense lawyer, representation for social workers, social worker defense attorney, social worker complaint cases, Florida Colorado Louisiana mental health counselor complaint cases, defense lawyer for psychologists, Florida health law defense attorney, medical license defense, Florida Department of Health (DOH) attorney, representation for Louisiana and Florida Department of Health (DOH) complaint investigations, Louisiana and Florida Department of Health (DOH) defense lawyer, Colorado Division of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) defense attorney, representation for Florida Colorado Division of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) complaint investigations, Colorado Division of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) defense lawyer, Lousiana LPC Board defense attorney lawyer, Health Law Firm reviews, reviews of The Health Law Firm attorneys, administrative complaint defense lawyer, administrative complaint defense attorney, administrative hearing defense lawyer, administrative hearing defense attorney, administrative hearing defense legal counsel, representation for health care professionals

“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.

By |2020-09-28T19:17:21-04:00September 28th, 2020|Categories: In the News, Mental Health Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Have You Found an NSO Insurance Attorney to Defend You in a Complaint Against Your Nursing License or Nurse Practitioners License?

Attorney George F. Indest head shotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
Many nurses, nurse practitioners, and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) carry professional malpractice insurance through the Nurses Service Organization (NSO) or one of the other similar insurance companies. This insurance is inexpensive and provides excellent coverage. What you may not realize, however, is that such insurance provides many added benefits, other than just coverage on nursing liability lawsuits. It will pay for legal defense expenses if there is a complaint filed against your nursing license. It will pay legal expenses for a lawyer to get involved and represent you if you receive a subpoena to testify or provide records. It will cover you if you have a HIPAA complaint or breach of medical privacy complaint filed against you.

Under such policies, the insurance company will pay the legal fees and other costs related to your defense. However, most of the time, you will still be required to locate and retain the appropriate attorney to represent you in the matter.

What to Look for When Retaining an Attorney to Defend You.

1. Your primary concern should be to find and retain an attorney who accepts the insurance that you have, whether it is NSO Insurance, CPH & Associates Insurance, Philadelphia Insurance, Trust Management Services, Firemans Fund, or another national company. This will ensure that you have an attorney who will give you the lower rates the insurance company had negotiated and will have a good working relationship established with your insurance company. If an attorney with our firm cannot represent you, we will certainly try to find an attorney who will.

2. Another primary qualification for any attorney you hire to represent you should be his or her experience in working with health professionals in the same field and on similar matters. If the attorney is not familiar with your area of health practice, it may be difficult for that attorney to get up to speed to represent you properly.

3. If you come across an attorney who states that she or he will help you make a statement to the investigator or assist you in the investigation, but does not appear with you in hearings, then this is the wrong attorney. You need an attorney who can represent you from start to finish.

4. Often you will come across an attorney who only wants you to accept a consent order, stipulation, or settlement agreement. Remember that these are all merely “plea bargains” and by signing this type of agreement, you will be pleading guilty to whatever offenses are charged. In most cases, you will probably be innocent of the charges and should request a formal administrative hearing in order to prove this.

5. You also want to retain the services of an attorney who has appeared before your professional board or professional licensing authority in investigations and hearings, especially formal and informal administrative hearings. The lack of familiarity with such investigations and boards can be costly to you.

6. You don’t necessarily need an attorney who is located in your city, county, or state. Almost all the work on the case will be done by telephone and e-mail. You usually have only one meeting or hearing with the investigator or its board and, depending on what type of hearing it is, it could be located in many different locations. Our attorneys will travel to those locations for meetings and hearings.

7. Beware of attorneys who hold themselves out in Internet advertising as health attorneys or professional license defense attorneys but are really some other type of attorney. We see this a lot from medical malpractice attorneys, criminal defense attorneys, and attorneys who sue insurance companies. Be sure you get an attorney who concentrates his or her practice in defending nurses with nursing complaints, investigations, and hearings.

8. If you can’t find an attorney to meet your immediate needs through an Internet search, you may contact your insurance company or professional association and ask if they have a list of attorneys that can do the legal work you require. For example, you may reach Nurses Service Organization (NSO) at (800) 247-1500; you can reach CPH & Associates at (800) 875-1911 or (312) 987-9823; you can access a list of professional license defense attorneys who represent nurses online at https://taana.org/referral/.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent nurses in Board of Nursing investigations and complaints, DORA investigations and complaints, and Department of Health (DOH) investigations and complaints. We appear before the Board of Nursing in licensing matters and in many other legal matters. We represent nurses 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 (850) 439-1001 or (970) 416-7456 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 Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 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.

By |2020-05-07T11:57:46-04:00August 24th, 2020|Categories: Mental Health Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Colorado Board of Pharmacy Must Give DEA Patient Identifying Data Says Federal Judge

George Indest HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On April 22, 2020, a federal judge ordered the Colorado Board of Pharmacy to give the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) prescription drug monitoring program data on two pharmacies that the DEA is investigating. The data includes patient identifying information of more than 14,000 patients. The state must turn over the data by May 15, 2020, according to the order.

Pharmacy Investigations.

Citing concerns about the two pharmacies’ handling of controlled-substance prescriptions, the DEA issued subpoenas under the Controlled Substances Act in 2019. The DEA requested the information as part of an investigation into whether the two unnamed pharmacies broke the law in dispensing opioids and other drugs.

Clashing Over Patient Privacy.

The DEA’s requested information is kept under the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program or PDMP. For controlled-substance prescriptions, Colorado pharmacies and pharmacists are required by state law to report information that includes the names of patients, their doctors, and pharmacies.

Colorado state officials refused to release the data citing patient privacy concerns. The DEA’s “overly broad, undifferentiated demand for access would violate the Fourth Amendment right to privacy guaranteed to more than 14,000 patients whose medical data is at issue,” the state said.

According to the order, the Colorado statute allows the prescription-monitoring data to be disclosed but only to specific recipients including in response to law enforcement subpoenas. However, the state argued that the Colorado statute only applies to a “bona fide investigation of a specific individual.”

To read about a similar case involving a DEA investigation into pharmacy prescription practices, click here to read my prior blog.

The Decision.

U.S. District Judge Raymond P. Moore denied Colorado’s objections to the DEA’s subpoenas for the prescription data including patients’ information such as names, birth dates, and addresses. The judge said the DEA has shown that the requested information is relevant and needed for the ongoing investigation of the two pharmacies, and no warrant is needed to obtain it. The order directs the Colorado Board of Pharmacy and Patty Salazar, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) to provide the data to the DEA no later than May 15, 2020.

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

For more information, click here to read the press release issued from the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado.

States Must Act to Protect the Integrity of Such Programs.

State prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) were sold to pharmacists and physicians based on a promise that they were solely for the purpose of protecting patients from overdoses and preventing “doctor shopping” by dishonest, drug-seeking patients. Inherent in these programs was the promise that they would not be used for the purpose of prosecuting or charging physicians or pharmacists, in criminal proceedings or administrative proceedings, based on their contents. Most of the state laws that authorized the creation of PDMPs specifically forbid their use in such cases. This was required in order to get physicians and state medical societies to buy off on them.

Yet here we are. We see this over and over. the Federal government and federal agencies obtaining copies of these reports from the state and using them as direct evidence against physicians, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, and pharmacies, despite the prohibition of the state statutes.

Moreover, not only does this subvert the purpose behind creating such databases, but then it runs afoul of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and similar provisions of most state constitutions. The doctor or pharmacist is required by law to report the prescriptions to the PDMP, but then the federal agency turns right around and uses it as evidence against the individual who reported it.

The feds take the position: “We do not care why you, the state, authorized it or what its purpose was supposed to be. If we want to take that information and use it for something else, something that was specifically prohibited by the state, then we will do it.”

Until state pharmacy associations and medical associations do something to tighten up the state legislation that created the PDMPs, this situation is not likely to change. The feds will continue to use the state PDMPs to prosecute and to take administrative actions to revoke the DEA registrations of physicians, pharmacists, pharmacies, and other health professionals.

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

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely provide legal representation to mental healthcare professionals, nurses, pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, and other health providers. We provide legal representation for nurses in Board of Nursing investigations and complaints, DORA investigations and complaints, and Department of Health (DOH) investigations and complaints. We defend in state and federal administrative hearings, investigations, and litigation. We also represent health professionals in formal and informal administrative hearings. We have a great deal of experience in defending against DEA actions. 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 (850) 439-1001 or (970) 416-7456 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Zegers, Kelly. “Colo. Must Give DEA Pharmacy Data With Patient Info.” Law360. (April 20, 2020). Web.

Ingold, John. “Why the DEA is suing Colorado’s pharmacy board as part of an opioid investigation.” The Colorado Sun. (November 11, 2019). Web.

Pazanowski, Mary Ann. “Colorado Pharmacy Board Must Give DEA Patient-Identifying Info.” Bloomberg Law. (April 22, 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 Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 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.

By |2020-06-03T16:55:58-04:00August 12th, 2020|Categories: Mental Health Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Insurer Faces Possible Lawsuits Over Failure to Pay Pandemic Business Interruption Claims

Headshot of The Health Law Firm's 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

On April 14, 2020, several companies announced they are considering a class action lawsuit against Hiscox Insurance over its failure to pay business interruption claims relating to the coronavirus lockdown. Hiscox, sold policies before COVID-19 hit. The policies allegedly stated that they would cover claims related to businesses being forced to shut owing to a notifiable disease. Business owners have reportedly filed claims with Hiscox and other commercial insurance companies, only to be told that their policies don’t cover the losses related to the pandemic.

Pay Attention to the Policy Wording.

The company’s policy wording says business interruption claims can be made if a public authority makes the business premises unusable due to “an occurrence of any human infectious or human contagion disease.”

Hiscox claims the policy’s coverage would only be triggered by “certain specific events at, or local to, the premises.” The insurer said its policies were not designed to cover the extraordinary circumstances caused by the pandemic. In a statement, the company said, “We understand that these are incredibly difficult times for businesses affected by COVID-19. At Hiscox, we strive to pay claims that are covered by the policies fairly and quickly. However, general business interruption policies across the industry, including Hiscox’s, were not designed to cover these extraordinary circumstances. Like terrorism and flood, which have government-backed insurance schemes, pandemics like coronavirus are simply too large and too systemic for private insurers to cover,” it added.

Business Interruption.

Business interruption insurance usually provides protection against the closure of business because of damage to property. Multiple “non-damage” extensions can be added to standard policies, including those for denial of access because of communicable disease. A communicable disease extension or addendum will typically cover losses arising from closure resulting from an outbreak of a virus or bacteria on-site or nearby.

Many policies’ word also includes a defined list of diseases covered under the terms of the policy, which range from the SARS virus to smallpox. Others are less specific, offering coverage for any “notifiable disease” outbreak required by law to be reported to authorities. Additionally, sometimes communicable disease policy addendums contain exclusions, which state that an outbreak must have occurred on the business premises or within a defined vicinity.

The Problem With Policies?

The difficulty is that in the majority of cases, these policies cite “direct physical loss or damage” as a requirement to be triggered. Unfortunately, a quarantine, travel ban, shelter-in-place orders, or pandemic might make it impossible for a business to keep its doors open, but unfortunately may not constitute obvious “physical damage.” So, if the wording fits, as far as the insurance company is concerned, it’s not their problem!

Hiscox denied the claims made against them and responded that the clause was designed to cover losses “solely and directly” from restrictions imposed by a public authority. It would not apply in this case because losses would have still occurred even if businesses had not been closed, because of the government-imposed lockdown.

Legal Issues For Insurance Policies.

There are several important points to remember when dealing with insurance policies and claims made to an insurer.

First, insurance is governed by state law, so interpretations and policy coverage requirements may differ from state to state. Always check your state’s insurance laws and the cases that interpret them to see if the issue is governed by them.

Second, your insurance policy is a contract between you and the insurance company. Read the contract and see what it states. If it is vague or there is a doubt after you read it, you may have a good case. See the next step below.

Third, the insurance company wrote the policy. The insurance company had complete control over the wording of the policy. It was up to the insurance company to be definite and specific in what was covered or not covered. If there is doubt in the coverage that is provided in the policy, the courts will usually interpret this against the insurance company so as to provide coverage to the insured for the loss.

Fourth, when there is a problem with an insurance claim or a denied claim, immediately retain the services of one of the many attorneys who are experienced in suing insurance companies. These attorneys usually know what they are doing and will not charge you unless they obtain a recovery for you.

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.

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

Sources:

Croucher, Martin. “Insurers Face Legal Tests Over Rejected Pandemic Claims.” Law360. (April 17, 2020). Web.

Croucher, Martin. “Hiscox Could Face Class Action Over COVID-19 Response” Law360. (April 14, 2020). Web.

Cox, Josie. “Coronavirus has exposed Britain’s insurance industry as a shambles.” The Guardian. (March 18, 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.

KeyWords: healthcare employment law representation, legal representation for physicians, doctor defense legal representation, legal representation for healthcare professionals, complex health care litigation attorney, complex civil litigation attorney, complex healthcare litigation lawyer, complex medical litigation lawyer, representation for complex medical litigation, representation for healthcare business litigation matters, The Health Law Firm, reviews of The Health Law Firm Attorneys, The Health Law Firm attorney reviews, legal representation for physicians and health care professionals

“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.

Dermatologist Pays $1.74 Million Settlement in FCA Suit For Inflated Medicare Claims in Florida

George Indest HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On March 13, 2020, a Florida dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon agreed to pay $1.74 million to resolve allegations that he violated the False Claims Act (FCA). United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez announced that Dr. Thi Thien Nguyen Tran and Village Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery, L.L.C. agreed to settle the case involving allegedly inflated Medicare claims. The settlement concludes the qui tam (whistleblowers) civil lawsuit originally filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Alleged Inflated Claims to Medicare.

According to the settlement agreement, from 2011 through 2016, Dr. Tran and Village Dermatology billed for 14,000 tissue transfers, which should have been billed as lower-level wound repairs. These submissions allegedly resulted in inflated claims that Medicare paid at rates higher than it should have paid. The exaggerated claims that were submitted to Medicare were for wound repairs related to Mohs surgery, a common, in-office procedure for dermatologists.

Qui Tam, Whistleblower Provisions.

The suit was originally filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act. This law, originally enacted during the Civil War, allows a private citizen to sue on behalf of the United States for false claims the government paid; if successful in recovering money, the whistleblower shares in the recovery. The Act also allows the United States to intervene and prosecute the action. According to the DOJ, the whistleblowers in this suit will receive over $305,000 of the proceeds from the settlement it made with Dr. Tran and Village Dermatology.

This case just shows that even physicians can and should bring such claims and be rewarded for their whistleblowing activities.

To read the press release issued by the DOJ, click here.

Read about a recent case involving FCA allegations by reading one of my prior blogs here.

False Claims Act Cases Can Often be Settled Early and Greater Penalties, Including Prison, Avoided.

This case shows that getting an experienced attorney involved early in the proceedings can lead to a monetary settlement on a case for a much lower price than if it were unnecessarily and aggressively defended. False Claims Act cases carry with them the threat of a possible criminal prosecution which can result in years in prison for a physician. They could also result in civil monetary penalties in the millions of dollars. This is because the government is allowed to pursue treble dames, plus $11,500 (adjusted for inflation), plus attorneys fee and costs, for each claim. Thus, if a physician has only 100 possibly false claims that Medicare paid for $100 each, this could result in over $1,150,300.00, plus attorney fees and costs for them. 1,000 false claims, over $11 million in possible penalties.

If the physician can retain the services of an experienced health lawyer who can negotiate down the amount sought by the government millions of dollars in penalties, legal fees and lost time from medical practice may be achieved. On the other hand, in the right case, if a physician is not guilty of any false billings, these cases can be identified early and a cohesive, organized defense planned early.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Qui Tam, Whistleblower Cases, and False Claims Act Violations.

Attorneys with The Health Law Firm represent dermatologists and other physicians, nurse practitioners and other nurses, and health professionals who need to defend a False Claims Act case, or who desire to file a False Claims Act (whistleblower or qui tam) case. However, the attorneys of The Health Law Firm also defend physicians, medical groups, and health facilities who have been sued in False Claims Act (whistleblower or qui tam) cases or have had administrative or civil complaints filed against them to recover civil monetary penalties. We have developed relationships with recognized experts in health care accounting, health care financing, utilization review, medical review, filling, coding, and other services that assist us in such matters.

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

Sources:

Pederson, Joe. “Villages doctor agrees to pay $1.7 million to settle False Claims Act Liability after inflating Medicare claims.” Orlando Sentinel. (March 13, 2020). Web.

“Villages doctor agrees to pay $1.7 million to settle False Claims Act after inflating Medicare claims.” MSN News. (March 16, 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.

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By |2020-05-07T12:54:14-04:00June 18th, 2020|Categories: Mental Health Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Always Provide Complete Records in Response to Government Subpoenas

Headshot of The Health Law Firm's 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
At a recent Florida Board of Dentistry meeting, a dentist was charged with violations of her practice act and standard of care violations. This happened because her prior practice had provided incomplete patient records to an investigator when it received a subpoena. The records that had been provided were missing written notes and other documentation, along with copies of the prescriptions the dentist had written. This is just one example of what can happen if patient records are not provided in an orderly and complete manner to investigators.

Important Points for Board Hearings.

The dentist attended the Board meeting, having requested an informal administrative hearing. To obtain this type of hearing means that the dentist agrees that there are no disputed issues of fact; this equates to a “guilty” plea. The dentist is waiving her right to have a formal hearing, present a defense and contest the allegations made against her. When questioned by the Board, it was clear that the dentist did not understand this. She also stated that she had an attorney, but the attorney was not present to represent her or to advise her during the Board hearing.

Even though this was a dental case, the same principles of administrative law apply in the case of a physician, nurse, mental health counselor, pharmacist or any other licensed health care professional.

Most importantly, the dentist testified that her prior practice had failed to provide a complete copy of the patient’s health record to the Department of Health (DOH) investigator. The prosecuting attorney showed the Board where the records had been subpoenaed from the prior practice twice, and they had been provided to the DOH twice, along with affidavits from the practice that these were complete copies of the entire record. (These affidavits were false.)

Fortunately for the dentist, the Board members reviewed the records that had been provided and could see for themselves that key portions were missing. Also, fortunately, the Board decided to table the case and send it back for more investigation.

If the Board had decided to go forward, the dentist would likely have received discipline on her license forever.

Important Lessons for Mental Health Care Professionals, Dentists, Physicians, and Other Licensed Health Care Professionals.

Valuable lessons that all licensed health professionals can learn from this case include:

1. Hire an experienced health law attorney as soon as you know you are under investigation. Many times your malpractice (professional) liability insurance will pay your legal defense expenses in these cases.

2. Your experienced attorney will obtain a copy of the complete investigation file (including all documents it contains) shortly after it is completed and long before any hearings. If your attorney doesn’t, then you should do so. You can review it and supplement any incomplete records, documents or information.

3. Do not hire an attorney who is unable to attend the hearing with you. Continuances can be routinely requested and granted if the attorney has a conflicting hearing somewhere else, is ill or is otherwise unable to attend. Don’t attend the hearing without your attorney, if you have one.

4. Know the difference between an informal hearing and a formal hearing. If you request an informal hearing, you are admitting the charges against you are true and you are guilty. (There are only one of two very limited exceptions to this rule) You are only there to argue about how much discipline you should receive.

5. If you are investigated, personally make sure a complete copy of the patient’s record is sent to the DOH investigator. This includes everything: demographics, insurance info, financial responsibility forms, treatment plans, orders, prescriptions, lab reports, periodontal charts, informed consent forms, patient instructions, office visits, telephone notes, operative reports, sedation charts on notes, history and physical, medical clearances from outside physicians, and dental or medical records from other providers. Even if you are no longer employed at that practice, you have the right to request and receive a copy of all of the records you generated when you treated the patient under Section 456.057, Florida Statutes. At least obtain these.

For more information on this topic and to find out more about how The Health Law Firm can assist you in matters like this, read my prior blog here.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Investigations of Health Professionals and Providers.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to dentists, dental technicians, physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, CRNAs, pharmacists, psychologists and other health providers in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations, Medicare investigations, Medicaid investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 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.

KeyWords: administrative procedure act defense, representation for administrative hearing, Board of Dentistry defense lawyer, representation for Board of Dentistry investigation, representation for Board of Dentistry hearing, Board hearing defense attorney, Board of Medicine defense lawyer, dental hygienist defense lawyer, dentist defense lawyer, representation for dentists Department of Health (DOH) representation, DOH defense attorney, representation for DOH hearings, representation for DOH investigations, representation for disciplinary charges, representation for disciplinary complaint, representation for Florida Administrative Codes, physician lawyer, representation for doctor, representation for healthcare professionals, representation for deposition coverage, last-minute deposition coverage, short notice representation of physician, short notice of representation of doctors, hearing representation for healthcare professional, Board of Medicine defense, Board of Medicine hearing defense lawyer, representation for administrative procedure act, representation for Rules of Civil Procedure, The Health Law Firm reviews, reviews of The Health Law Firm attorneys

“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. Altamonte Springs, Florida.

Taking a Looking at 2019’s Largest Healthcare Fraud Case Ever Prosecuted: No Surprise, Florida Wins!

George Indest HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
For years, Florida has topped the lists with the highest rates of Medicare and Medicaid fraud and abuse. But even by the standards of Florida’s rampant healthcare fraud, this 2019 case stands out for its sheer size, making Florida, once again, the leader in fakes and frauds. Often joked and written about by Florida novelists such as Carl Hiassin and Tim Dorsey, this case serves to highlight why the “Debtor’s Haven” state often excels in cases of healthcare fraud.

In April 2019, after decades of alleged schemes, illegal kickbacks and money laundering in connection with fraudulent claims to Medicare and Medicaid, Phillip Esformes was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was also ordered to pay $44.2 million in money forfeitures and restitution, and forfeiture of his ownership interests in several skilled nursing homes.

A federal district judge sentenced the South Florida health care facility owner after he was found guilty in the largest health care fraud scheme ever charged by the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ).

A Case of “Epic” Fraud.

The nursing home mogul was accused of paying bribes and receiving kickbacks in a massive $1 billion Medicare fraud case touted by federal prosecutors as the largest in the nation. During an eight-week jury trial, prosecutors argued that Esformes himself made $38 million from Medicare and Medicaid payments between 2010 and 2016. Additionally, his South Florida network received more than $450 million through bribes and though services that weren’t medically necessary or which were never provided, according to the prosecution’s case.

To learn more about this case, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Convicted, But Not of Healthcare Fraud.

The shocker, in this case, is that the federal jury convicted Esformes on 20 counts of conspiracy to defraud the taxpayer-funded Medicare program. The lack of a conviction for healthcare fraud itself was puzzling. Many of his alleged co-conspirators had already pled guilty to health care fraud and some had even testified against him at trial. To learn more, click here to read one of my prior blogs on another individual involved in the case.

Despite being billed as the largest healthcare fraud case prosecuted in U.S. history, it is also a stark reminder to prosecutors of how tricky it can be to secure a conviction on any particular charge.

To read the DOJ’s press release about this case in full, 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 Medicare and Medicaid audits, and in ZPIC and 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. Our attorneys also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, recovery actions and administrative actions seeking termination from Medicare and Medicaid Programs.

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 (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.


Sources:

Weaver, Jay. “Miami healthcare exec Esformes sentenced to 20 years in biggest Medicare fraud case.” Miami Herald. (September 12, 2019). Web.

Hale, Nathan. “The Biggest Stories In Florida Legal News Of 2019.” Law360. (December 20, 2019). Web.

Jackson, David. “Nursing home mogul Philip Esformes sentenced to 20 years for $1.3 billion Medicaid fraud.” Chicago Tribune. (September 13, 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.

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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 © 2019/2020 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

By |2019-12-30T19:40:55-05:00February 24th, 2020|Categories: Mental Health Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Finding a Healthcare Provider Service Organization (HPSO) Insurance Attorney to Defend you in a Complaint Against Your Mental Health Counselor or Social Workers License

Headshot of attorney George IndestBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
Many licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs), licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT), and other mental health professionals carry professional malpractice insurance through the Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO) or one of the many other professional liability insurance companies. What they may not realize is that their insurance will pay for their legal defense expenses if there is a complaint filed against their license, if they receive a subpoena, if they are noticed for a deposition, or if they are accused of violating HIPAA or a client’s medical confidentiality rights.

Under such policies, the insurance company will pay the legal fees and other costs related to your defense. However, you will be required to locate and retain the appropriate attorney to represent you in the matter. So how do you go about doing this?

What to Look For When Retaining an Attorney to Defend You.

1. The primary qualification for any attorney you hire to represent you should be her experience in working with health professionals in the same field. If the attorney is not familiar with your area of health practice, it may be difficult for that attorney to get up to speed to represent you properly.

2. If you come across an attorney who states that he or she will help you make a statement or assist you in the investigation, but does not appear in hearings, then this is the wrong attorney. You need an attorney that can represent you from start to finish.

3. Seek and retain an attorney who accepts the insurance that you have, whether it is HPSO Insurance, CPH & Associates Insurance, Philadelphia Insurance, Trust Management Services, or another national company. This will ensure that you have an attorney who will give you the lower rates the insurance company had negotiated and will have a good working relationship established with your insurance company. If an attorney with our firm cannot represent you, we will try to find an attorney who will.

4. You also want to retain the services of an attorney who has appeared before your professional board or professional licensing authority in investigations and hearings, especially formal administrative hearings.

5. Often you will come across an attorney who only wants you to accept a consent order, stipulation, or settlement agreement. Remember that these are all merely plea bargains and you will be pleading guilty to whatever offenses are charged. In most cases, you will be innocent and need a formal administrative hearing in order to prove this.

6. You don’t necessarily need an attorney in your city, state, or location. Almost all the work on the case will be done by telephone and e-mail. You usually have only one meeting or hearing and, depending on what type of hearing it is, it could be located in many different locations. Our attorneys will travel to those locations for meetings and hearings.

7. Beware of attorneys who hold themselves out in Internet advertising as health attorneys or professional license defense attorneys but are really some other type of attorneys. We see this a lot from medical malpractice attorneys and criminal defense attorneys. Be sure you get an attorney that concentrates her practice in defending those in your specialty in board complaints, investigations and hearings.

8. If you can’t find an attorney to meet your immediate needs through an Internet search, you may contact your insurance company or professional association and ask if they have a list of attorneys that can do the legal work you require.

For example, you may reach Healthcare Providers Service Organization at (800) 982-9491; you can reach Nurses Service Organization (NSO) at (800) 247-1500; you can reach CPH & Associates at (800) 875-1911 or (312) 987-9823. You can also access a list of professional license defense attorneys online at https://taana.org/referral/.

To learn more about finding an HPSO attorney to defend you in such matters, click here to read one of my 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, social workers, and family therapists in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, FBI investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers. To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

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

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

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

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

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Copyright © 2020 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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By |2020-01-23T17:59:44-05:00January 23rd, 2020|Categories: Mental Health Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Hospital Countersues FCA Whistleblower for Failing to Report Information Internally

George F. Indest IIIBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On March 13, 2019, a West Virginia hospital facing a whistleblower lawsuit countersued a former employee who filed the False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit against the health system. Wheeling Hospital alleges that the former executive, who is the whistleblower/relator in the lawsuit, breached his fiduciary duty to the company by failing to report the unlawful conduct internally, first. Instead, he used the information as the basis for his whistleblower claim. In the countersuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, the Hospital accuses the former executive-turned-whistleblower of attempting to ‘extort a settlement’ and filing the FCA whistleblower suit as an act of revenge.

The Whistleblower’s Complaint.

The whistleblower, a former accountant, and senior executive at Wheeling Hospital, was discharged in August 2015. In December 2017, he filed a complaint under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act (FCA). He alleged the hospital violated the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) by paying kickbacks to physicians for patient referrals to the Hospital. Based on this, it is alleged, the claims for the services the hospital provided to the referred patients were false claims, subject to recoupment by the government.

The Hospital’s Countersuit.

In an unusual strategy, the Hospital filed a counter-suit against the whistleblower, alleging that he breached his fiduciary duty to the Hospital and abused the legal process. The Hospital’s case asserts that instead of carrying out his duty to the Hospital, instead, he capitalized on his alleged knowledge of the conduct to “extort a settlement” through a “false and frivolous” FCA suit as an act of revenge.

Additionally, the Hospital alleges that “at no time during his employment, or in his role as a partner at Deloitte, did he report any suspicions of fraud or violations of federal regulations to Wheeling Hospital’s compliance officer.”

You can read Wheeling Hospital’s countersuit against the whistleblower on our website in full.

The Significance of This Case: Unique Defense Strategy for Defending a Whistleblower Suit.

This case shows a unique, but legally valid, defense strategy that might be used in other future whistleblower cases. Often the information about false claims is produced by a high-ranking hospital or institutional employees whose job duties may have required them to report what they knew to the company as part of their job. The company should then have the opportunity to investigate and correct any improper billing or other misconduct that an errant employee might be carrying out on his own. By failing to do this, the employee may breach his duties to the company, may violate his employment contract, and may be subject to a suit or counter-suit over this. To the extent that the actions of the ex-employee cause the employer damages, the employer may be entitled to indemnification from the ex-employee.

However, the other side of the story is when an employee does make his or her superiors aware of suspected misconduct and false claims within the company and the company does nothing about it. This is often the case that we have when potential blowers contact us about filing a False Claims Act case. Often the whistleblower attempts to do the right thing by reporting it within the company and is stymied by his or her superiors. To us, this opens the door to legitimate whistleblower suits.

To read one of my prior blogs about South Florida Hospital reaching a settlement for similar FCA
claims, click here.

Click here to learn more about who can file a whistleblower/qui tam lawsuit and the reward programs for coming forward with a false claim.

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

Attorneys with The Health Law Firm represent physicians, nurses and other health professionals who desire to file a False Claims Act (whistleblower or qui tam) case. However, the attorneys of The Health Law Firm also defend physicians, medical groups and health facilities that have been sued in False Claims Act (whistleblower or qui tam) cases or have had administrative or civil complaints filed against them to recover civil monetary penalties. We have developed relationships with recognized experts in health care accounting, health care financing, utilization review, medical review, filling, coding, and other services that assist us in such matters. We have represented doctors, nurses and others as relators in bringing qui tam or whistleblower cases, as well.

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

Sources:

Pearlman, Steve and Freeman, Meika. “Top 10 Whistleblowing And Retaliation Events Of The Year.” Law360. (December 20, 2019). Web.

Goldberg, Pinchos. “Hospital Sues Whistleblower for Failing to Report Information And Choosing Instead to Use As Basis for Claim.” JD Supra. (May 8, 2019). Web.

Commins, John. “HOSPITAL COUNTERSUES FALSE CLAIMS WHISTLEBLOWER.” Health Leaders. (May 9, 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.

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