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

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

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

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

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

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

The Settlement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Good News and Bad News for ECFMG & USMLE Applicants: Recent Changes for the USMLE Step Exams

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

These are some recently announced changes that could significantly impact anyone seeking to take the USMLE Step exams. This could be construed as good news by many and bad news by many others. Regardless, here it is.

Step 1 Exam Changing to Pass/Fail Grade and Score Reporting.

The USMLE announced recently that it would change the scoring and reporting for Step 1 exam scores. Step 1 score reporting will transition to pass/fail only for administrations on or after January 26, 2022. All of the worry about passing with a low score and how that might affect residency choices will be eliminated by this change.

Number of Attempts for Step 1 or Step 2 Exam Limited to Four (4) Lifetime Attempts.

Remember when you had no limit on the number of times you could take a USMLE Step exam? Remember when it was reduced to a maximum of six (6) attempts, not that long ago? Guess what? Not anymore!

Effective July 1, 2021, the number of attempts you can have to pass any USMLE Step exam will change. The change latest change reduces the total number of allowable attempts from six (6) attempts to four (4) attempts for any single Step exam, including any incomplete attempts. This is in effect for all applications submitted on or after July 1, 2021. So now, examinees who have already attempted any USMLE Step exam four (4) or more times and have not passed, will no longer be eligible to apply for the USMLE exams.

Is it possible to obtain an exemption? Depending on your circumstances, we can petition for one, but that does not mean it will be granted.

Step 2-CS Exam Completely Eliminated!!!!

Remember the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), also known as “der Teufel” (1), that used to be required for Foreign Medical Graduates (now known as “International Medical Graduates” or “IMGs”)? No? Well, I don’t either.

Remember when the Step 2-CS was easily considered the most difficult exam for a foreign medical graduate to pass. Well, I do remember this!

The Step 2-CS (for “clinical skills”) exam was supposed to address any foreign language problems in practicing in the United States. This became, in my opinion, one of the biggest obstacles to for IMGs becoming licensed in the U.S. It was originally discontinued for approximately a year and a half because of problems caused by the COVID-19 epidemic.

Guess what? It doesn’t exist anymore. Accordingly, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), co-sponsors of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) by the USMLE Secretariat, announced on January 26, 2021, that it was discontinuing the Step 2-CS exam.

I guess the powers that be learned when they eliminated the Step 2-CS during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, that it was not so necessary after all. Now it is gone.

“Will it ever return, no it will never return; its fate is still unknown.”(1) There is no expectation that it will ever come back. What do you do now with all of those low score “fails” and lows test score “passes” you previously received on the Step 1 exam and the Step 2-CS? The answer is lost in chaos. We will just have to wait and see.

Major Chinese Medical Schools Disqualified in 2019.

See my next blog on what happened to eight (8) major Chinese medical schools so that their graduates cannot take the Step exams or become licensed in the U.S. anymore. Click here to read about the Chines medical schools.

Endnotes:

(1) German for “the Devil”

(2) Paraphrase of verse from “MTA” [standing for the Boston Metropolitan Transit Authority or subway train] written by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes, recorded and made famous by The Kingston Trio in 1959.

(3) Answer to the final question asked at the end of every episode of the Japanese Anime series “Dorohedoro” or “Doro and Doro” (2020) (available on Netflix), about a man named “Caiman” who wakes up one morning with the head of a lizard and amnesia and searches for the reason.

Contact a Health Care Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Medical Students, Interns, Residents and Applicants, Fellows and Those Involved in Graduate Medical Education, and those being challenged by the National Board fo Medical Examiners (NBME), the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Secretariat, and the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG)

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys represent interns, residents, fellows, and medical school students in disputes with their medical schools, supervisors, residency programs, and in dismissal hearings. We 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. We routinely help those who have disputes with the National Board fo Medical Examiners (NBME), the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Secretariat, and the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), including on hearings and appeals concerning “Irregular Behavior,” “unprofessionalism,” and “Irregular Conduct.”

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:

“USMLE policy updates following Step 2 CS discontinuation.” United States Medical Licensing Examination Announcements. (July 21, 2021). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., L.L.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm. 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 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.

 

 

What is the Cost For Legal Defense in a Hospital Medical Staff Peer Review Fair Hearing?

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

If you are a physician, nurse practitioner, oral surgeon, dentist, or other health professional with clinical privileges in a hospital, you may face a situation where you are required to defend yourself at a “fair hearing.”  A “fair hearing” is held by the hospital’s medical staff pursuant to the Medical Staff Bylaws or Rules and Regulations of the Medical Staff.

“Fair Hearing”–A Term of Art.

The hearing is called a “fair hearing,” which is a term of art.  Usually, those defending themselves at such hearings don’t find them to be fair at all. However, according to the federal Health Care Quality Improvement Act (HCQIA), such proceedings are required to provide the affected healthcare practitioner with certain “due process,” such as the right to be advised of the specific charges made against them, the right to legal representation, the right to produce witnesses and evidence of their own and other rights.

Be Sure You Have Professional Liability Insurance That Includes Coverage for Clinical Privileges Actions.

If you face such a hearing, you will find it difficult to find an experienced lawyer to represent you and, when you do, it will be a costly endeavor.  This is one of the primary reasons to purchase good professional liability insurance, including legal defense of such peer review actions. Unfortunately, most insurance companies that provide such coverage have limits far too low to pay all legal defense expenses you will probably incur.

Standard Insurance Coverage Amounts May Not Be Sufficient to Protect You Properly.

However, the basic amount provided for such coverage in most insurance policies is not sufficient to cover the actual expenses of the proceeding.  Standard coverage amounts are usually in amounts of $25,000, $35,000, or $50,000;  again, these are not sufficient to pay for even the most basic fair hearing.  Some insurers have much higher limits;  it is important to find out precisely what you have to increase the coverage or buy additional coverage.

There are often additional “riders” to insurance policies that you can purchase, “additional coverages,” or even a completely separate policy that will provide such legal defense coverage for you.  It is usually not that expensive and is worth inquiring about.  This type of coverage often goes hand-in-hand with professional license defense coverage as one can cause the other to occur. For example, a hospital peer review action can result in a report to your state licensing board. A licensing complaint or action may cause hospital peer review action to be initiated against you.

You should think of a “fair hearing” as similar to a medical malpractice trial and plan accordingly.


Costs and Expenses of a “Fair Hearing”

One of the most significant expenses you will incur in preparing for a “fair hearing” is expert witness fees. In almost every case we have ever had, obtaining one or more expert witnesses to testify at the hearing has been necessary.  Obtaining experts in medical sub-specialties will cost more, of course, than those in specialties such as family medicine and internal medicine.  It is often difficult to find an expert witness who will not only support your position in the case but will also show up at the hospital to testify at the “fair hearing.”

Additionally, the mere preparation for the hearing (including document reviews and working with the expert witnesses) and representation at the hearing is a time-intensive endeavor.  It has been our experience that even the most routine “fair hearing” costs approximately $100,000. For example, in one case we had involving several different areas of spinal surgery, requiring five (5) expert witnesses, cost in excess of $250,000 (note:  all charges against the doctor were dismissed at the hearing).

Conclusion.

Peer review “fair hearings” in hospitals are costly to defend and require an experienced attorney and the financial resolve to see the case through to its conclusion.  Often insurance does not provide sufficient coverage for such hearings. Therefore, physicians, nurse practitioners, oral surgeons, psychologists, and others having hospital clinical privileges should purchase additional coverage for such events and hire experienced legal counsel to represent them at the earliest stage of the proceedings.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers in Peer Review and “Fair Hearing” Matters.

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.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., L.L.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm. 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 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.

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

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 |2021-03-26T09:55:54-04:00May 21st, 2021|Categories: Health Facilities Law Blog, In the Know|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Florida Judge Won’t Toss Lawsuit Filed By Family of Publix Employee Who Died of Coronavirus

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 February 5, 2021, a judge in Florida refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of a Publix Super Markets deli worker who died after allegedly catching COVID-19 from a coworker. Judge Carlos Lopez announced that he would not dismiss the lawsuit filed by Gerardo Gutierrez’s family, who died on April 28, 2020, from complications caused by coronavirus. The suit was filed in the Florida Circuit Court for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Miami-Dade County, Florida, in November 2020.

Publix Accused of Failing Its Workers & the Miami Beach Community.

The suit alleged that on March 27 and 28, 2020, 70-year-old deli worker Gerardo “Gerry” Gutierrez worked at a Publix supermarket alongside a coworker who showed signs of COVID-19. Unfortunately, at that time, according to the complaint, Publix had made a decision to prohibit its employees from wearing masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE).

On April 2, Gutierrez was told by his supervisors to isolate at home; but by April 7, he tested positive for Covid-19, the complaint says. He died on April 28, 2020.

The family says in its complaint that Publix, a Florida-based grocery store chain, breached its duty to keep its employees safe. It knowingly failed to take proper precautions and prohibited its workers from wearing masks for fear it would “incite panic” among customers, claims the suit. The lawsuit echoes findings from an earlier Tampa Bay Times report that took the position that Publix lagged behind competitors in adopting employee and customer safety protections (such as employee PPE) during the early days of the pandemic.
Click here to learn more.

Additionally, the suit also references several Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) complaints, where employees repeatedly reported the grocer prohibited mask and glove use.

To view the family’s complaint, click here.

Publix Defends Itself.

In response to the lawsuit, Publix filed a motion to dismiss, calling the suit an attempt to circumvent the worker’s compensation process. Publix also argued that the claims in the case needed to be filed in the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings. The worker’s compensation system in Florida requires that employees of a corporation must file workers compensation claims for injuries sustained on the job. Civil litigation is prohibited against the employer, with a number of exceptions. The judge in the civil case disagreed with Publix, ruling in favor of the estate of the worker.

According to the complaint, it wasn’t until March 2020, after the realization set in that the spread of COVID-19 presented a major national crisis for Publix to post a statement on its website. In the statement, Publix CEO Todd Jones said the company had remained in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and would “continue to focus on keeping [its] associates [employees] healthy—and [its] stores open and stocked—to serve and support all our communities.”

Click here to read the statement in full.

Despite the arguments, the family’s attorney Michael Levine said, “Publix has never taken any responsibility for its unthinkable decision to prohibit its employees from wearing masks as COVID-19 swept through Florida. Our case will make sure Publix is held accountable for its reckless decision. We look forward to uncovering the documents behind the mask prohibition and deposing its senior personnel.”

One problem that we see with this case is that many Publix employees work part-time. We had one working for our law firm, for example. By not allowing employees to wear proper PPE, and not requiring them to abide by other protective measures, the employer caused a far wider exposure of others, even many non-customers, and their families, to the COVID virus.

The case is Gutierrez v. Publix Super Markets Inc., case number 2020-025168-CA-01, and you can read the judge’s order in full here.

Read one of my prior blogs about OSHA previously handing out citations for COVID-19 PPE violations.

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 our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Bolado, Carolina. “Fla. Judge Won’t Ax Suit Over Publix Worker’s COVID-19 Death.” Law360. (February 5, 2021). Web.

Toropin, Konstantin. “Family files suit over Publix employee’s death. It says company failed to protect him from Covid-19.” CNN. (November 23, 2020). Web.

DiNatale, Sara. “A Publix employee died from COVID-19. Now his family is suing over his death.” Tampa Bay Times. (November 23, 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.

“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.

Medical Information Bureau (MIB) Reports and How They Affect Your Insurance Rates

Attorney Amanda ForbesBy Amanda I. Forbes, J.D.

When you apply for insurance, an insurance company will look at various factors regarding your history to determine how much your insurance policy will cost. Most insurers obtain a report from the Medical Information Bureau (“MIB”) and use this in determining the risk you pose and, hence, your policy premium.

The MIB checks past records to identify any errors, misrepresentations, or omissions made on an insurance application. An MIB report is similar to a credit report except it is specifically tailored for the insurance process. Click here to learn more.

What Does the MIB do?

Since 1902, the MIB has worked as a not-for-profit organization in the United States and Canada. Its members (e.g., life insurance companies, health insurance companies, disability insurers, etc.) use the MIB to help them determine a person’s “risk and eligibility during the underwriting of life, health, disability income, critical illness, and long-term care insurance policies.” Learn more about the organization here.

Insurance applications, whether for health, life, disability, critical illness, or long-term care, will almost always have several health questions that help the insurance company determine an appropriate risk classification for that individual. The higher the risk, the higher the premium, usually. Traditionally, some applicants in very high-risk categories (transplant patients, those with serious long-term chronic medical conditions) or in high-risk professions (e.g., parachuting instructors, trapeze artists, explosives experts) may not be able to obtain insurance at all.

Sometimes an applicant for an insurance policy may try to obtain lower premiums by knowingly omitting key information on their applications. Because of this, insurance companies started to rely on MIB reports to identify and prevent insurance fraud. The MIB provides information that can be used to identify false or incomplete applications.

It is estimated that the MIB saves its member companies over $1 billion annually (Note: I think this estimate probably comes from the MIB). It can do this because the information it provides to its members allows them to evaluate and assess risk more accurately. MIB’s members share information with MIB in a coded format to protect individuals’ privacy.

MIB Pre-Notices.

When a member company wants to search MIB’s database or report information to the MIB, it must first give the individual MIB a “pre-notice.” However, this is often buried in the fine print of the insurance application. The MIB “pre-notice” advises the individual that a report of their medical condition may be provided to MIB.

When the individual later applies for insurance with a different company that is a member of MIB, then MIB may provide that company with an MIB report.

After the individual receives MIB “pre-notice,” they are requested to sign an authorization. The authorization advises the individual that MIB is an information source, as well as others that may have records about the individual (e.g., primary care physician). The signed authorization permits the member company to receive and share information with MIB. Learn more about MIB “pre-notice” here.

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 our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com

About the Author: Amanda I. Forbes, practices health law with The Health Law Firm in its Altamonte Springs, Florida, office. 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.

 

Civil and Criminal Enforcement of HIPAA Privacy and Security Regs on the Rise

George Indest Headshot

Attorney George F. Indest III, The Health Law Firm

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

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR), a division within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is the federal organization responsible for investigating complaints and enforcing the Privacy and Security Regulations implementing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly referred to as “HIPAA.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be leveling off and more employees are going back to the office, and into the field, HIPAA complaint investigations will definitely pick up. Furthermore, criminal prosecutions for violations of HIPAA have recently been on the rise as well.

OCR’s Investigations and Enforcement Actions.

OCR enforces the HIPAA Privacy and Security Regulations in several ways:

The first method it has is the receiving and investigating of HIPAA violation complaints. These can easily be filed online by going to https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/filing-a-complaint/.

If you receive a notice from the OCR that it is investigating a HIPAA complaint against you, it will request a large number of various documents relating to the matter. It is crucial that you retain the services of an experienced health lawyer to assist you in responding. Often, it will not be necessary to provide all of the documents requested by OCR, if your attorney determines that certain legal grounds exist for avoiding this. Regardless, you should seek legal counsel, anyway, since both criminal and civil sanctions may result.

OCR Also Conducts Compliance Audits.

OCR conducts compliance reviews to determine if covered entities are in compliance. Covered entities include, for example, physicians, medical groups, nurse practitioners (in most cases), psychologists, mental health counselors (in most cases), pharmacists, health clinics (in most cases), assisted living facilities (ALFs), home health agencies (HHAs), hospitals, and many others.

OCR reviews the information that it gathers through its investigation or audit. In some cases, it may determine that the covered entity did not violate the Privacy Regulations or the Security Regulations. However, in the case of the covered entity’s violation, OCR may do any of the following:

Dismissing the matter or taking no further action.

Obtaining the Covered Entity’s agreement for voluntary compliance going forward.

Obtaining corrective action through a corrective action plan (CAP).

Negotiating a resolution agreement (RA).

Assessment of civil penalties (monetary fines).

Referral to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for further investigation and criminal prosecution.

Civil Violations.

In cases of noncompliance where the covered entity does not satisfactorily resolve the matter, OCR may decide to impose civil money penalties (CMPs) on the covered entity. It can then take further administrative or civil litigation action to enforce these if they are not paid.

Civil monetary penalties for HIPAA violations are determined based on a tiered civil penalty structure. The HHS secretary has discretion in determining the amount of the penalty based on the nature and extent of the violation and the nature and extent of the harm resulting from the violation. HHS is prohibited from imposing civil monetary penalties (except in cases of willful neglect) if the violation is corrected within 30 days (this time period may be extended at HHS’s discretion). So it is imperative to retain an attorney and get on top of the situation fast.

The range of penalties for civil violations.

HIPAA violation: Unknowing
Penalty range: $100 – $50,000 per violation, with an annual maximum of $25,000 for repeat violations

HIPAA violation: Reasonable Cause
Penalty range: $1,000 – $50,000 per violation, with an annual maximum of $100,000 for repeat violations

HIPAA violation: Willful neglect but corrected (violation is corrected within the required time period)
Penalty range: $10,000 – $50,000 per violation, with an annual maximum of $250,000 for repeat violations

HIPAA violation: Willful neglect, not promptly corrected (violation is not corrected within the required time period)
Penalty range: $50,000 per violation, with an annual maximum of $1.5 million

Criminal penalties for violations.

In June 2005, DOJ clarified who can be held criminally liable under HIPAA. Its clarification included officers, employees, and other principles of business entities (corporations and companies) that are covered entities, including co-conspirators, aiders, and abettors of the acts.

Criminal violations of HIPAA are investigated and prosecuted by DOJ. As with the civil penalties, there are different criminal penalties based on the level of severity of the criminal violation.

Covered entities and specified other individuals who knowingly obtain or disclose individually identifiable health information, in violation of the Administrative Simplification Regulations to the HIPAA Regulations, face a fine of up to $50,000, as well as imprisonment for up to one (1) year.

Offenses committed under false pretenses allow penalties to be increased to a $100,000 fine, with up to five (5) years in prison.

Finally, offenses committed with a profit motive, in other words, with the intent to sell, transfer, or use individually identifiable health information for commercial advantage, personal gain, or malicious harm permit fines of $250,000 and imprisonment up to ten (10) years.

What is a “Covered Entity?”

One thing to remember is that HIPAA and its enforcing regulations only apply to “covered entities” with certain minor exceptions. The following are examples of “covered entities”:

Health plans (e.g., health insurers, HMOs, PPOs)

Health care clearinghouses

Health care providers who transmit claims in electronic form (this will cover almost all health facilities and health professionals)

Medicare prescription drug card sponsors

Individuals such as directors, employees, or officers of a covered entity (where the covered entity is not an individual) may criminally liable under HIPAA per the “corporate criminal liability” theory.

 

Criminal Penalties for HIPAA Violations.

Yes, there are criminal penalties, including prison for up to ten (10) years, possible for HIPAA violations.

To read an earlier blog I wrote on criminal penalties for HIPAA violations, please click here.

What is the Definition of “Knowingly?”

The DOJ interprets the required element of “knowingly” in the criminal liability section of HIPAA as requiring only knowledge of the actions that constitute an offense. Specific knowledge that an action is a violation of HIPAA is not required.

Can a HIPAA Violation Lead to Exclusion from the Medicare Program?

HHS has the authority to exclude from participation in Medicare any covered entity that was not compliant with certain HIPAA Regulations under certain circumstances. Call your healthcare lawyer for details on this.

For information on the effects of exclusion from any government-sponsored healthcare program on a doctor, nurse, dentist, or any other health provider, visit our website’s Health Law Articles and Documents page to view the OIG’s Special Advisory Bulletin.

 

The Administrative Simplification Act Simplifies it All.

The Administrative Simplification Act sought to clarify and simplify parts of HIPAA and increase specific penalties for violations. Title 42, United States Code, Chapter 7, Subchapter XI, Part C (Administrative Simplification Act).

The Administrative Simplification Regulations authorize a fine of up to $50,000, as well as imprisonment up to one year. Offenses committed under false pretenses allow penalties to be increased to a $100,000 fine, with up to five years in prison. Finally, offenses committed with the intent to sell, transfer, or use individually identifiable health information for commercial advantage, personal gain, or malicious harm permits fines of $250,000 and imprisonment for up to 10 years.

Misuse and Disclosure of “Unique Health Identifiers.”

The wrongful use of a unique health identifier can be charged as a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1320d–6(a)(1) and (b)(1)), the penalty provision of which is set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 1320d–6(b)(1). “Unique health identifier” includes a patient’s name, address, social security number, insurance member ID number, description of health history, and description of the patient’s symptoms.

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.

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 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.

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