Will a Death from COVID-19 be Considered “Accidental Death” for Life Insurance Policies or a Death from “Accidental Causes?”

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

Almost all life insurance policies, including term policies, pay a “double indemnity,” that is, double the limits of coverage if a death occurs from “accidental causes” as opposed to “natural causes.”  A question arises, given the COVID-19 pandemic, of whether a death caused by the novel corona versus would be considered a natural death or an accidental death.  Fortunately, there is some guidance on this issue.

One reason it is important to distinguish between “accidental death” and “natural death” is that:

There is no pandemic exclusion for life insurance.  General life insurance covers pandemics, assuming you were truthful about your travel plans and exposure to illness during the application process.  . . . .  An accidental death & dismemberment policy is more limited and covers deaths only when they’re accidental.  It generally doesn’t [usually] cover deaths caused by illness and disease.

Nat’l Ass’n of Ins. Comm’rs, COVID-19 & Ins. (2020), https://content.naic.org/sites/default/files/inline-files/Insurance%20Brief%20-%20Covid-19%20and%20Insurance.pdf. (Emphasis added).

Definition of “Accidental Death”

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, an “accidental death” is defined as:  “A death that results from an unusual event, one that was not voluntary, intended, expected, or foreseeable.”  Accidental Death, Black’s Law Dictionary (4th pocket ed. 2011).  Likewise, Ballentine’s Law Dictionary states than an “accidental death” is:

One that occurs unforeseen, undesigned, and unexpected. 29 Am J Rev ed Ins § 1166.  One which occurs by accident, that is, was not designed or anticipated, albeit it may occur in consequence of a voluntary act.

Accidental Death, Ballentine’s Law Dictionary (3rd ed. 1969).

Under the above two definitions, definitions that are usually considered to come from the common law, death from the COVID-19 virus would be considered to be an “accidental death.”

Look to State Insurance Laws for Definitions.

One should also immediately look at the state’s insurance statutes to see if their state’s law defines “accidental death” in terms of insurance coverage.  As an example, Florida law provides such definitions in Chapter 627 of Florida Statues which deals with insurance contracts.

Section 627.429(5)(c), Florida Statutes, is of particular note.  Regarding death from HIV, for example, it states:

Except for preexisting conditions specifically applying to sickness or medical condition of the insured, benefits under a life insurance policy shall not be denied or limited based on the fact that the insured’s death was caused, directly or indirectly, by exposure to the HIV infection or a specific sickness or medical condition derived from such infection. This paragraph does not prohibit the issuance of accidental death only or specified disease policies.

Section 627.429(5)(c), Florida Statutes (emphasis added).

This is significant because the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a very slow-acting disease that harms one’s immune system by destroying the white blood cells that fight infection.  Death may not occur for years, even decades from an infection.  Whereas, COVID-19 is a fast-acting respiratory virus.  If death from HIV could be considered an “accidental death,” than death from COVID-19 certainly could be classified as “accidental death,” as well.


Legal Arguments for “Accidental Death”

If you have a death in your family and there is life insurance coverage on that person, you should not accept the insurance company’s determination that the death is from “natural causes” as opposed to “accidental death.” Challenge this decision, in court, if necessary.

A death caused by the COVID-19 virus is clearly “from an unusual event.”  I doubt that anyone would even contest this issue.  It is also clearly “one that was not voluntary, intended, [or] expected.”  Again, the novel coronavirus pandemic has taken the world by surprise.  How can anyone in their right mind argue that it was truly “expected.”  “Foreseeable” would be an objective test as to whether this was something “reasonably foreseeable.”  It does not appear, from the shock and unreadiness displayed by state and national governments and health officials, that this event was truly reasonably foreseeable.

I did not foresee it, did you?  If 99.999% of the populace did not foresee it, how can it be argued that it is reasonably foreseeable?  At the very least, this is a jury question and the foregoing should be argued to the jury.  If the average reasonable man (the man who is a legal fiction) did not foresee this pandemic and the deaths that result, how can it not be an “accidental death”?  It seems that any jury would be hard-pressed to find other than an “accidental death.”

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

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals.  This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, Durable Medical Equipment suppliers, medical students and interns, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical student professors and clinical staff. We represent 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, in patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

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

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.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2020 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

New Anti-Prescription Drug Abuse Campaign in Pinellas County

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

Pinellas County has started a new billboard campaign aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse. The billboard message reads, “We’re shutting down Pill Mills in Pinellas County.” The first two billboards were erected on April 1, 2012. Several smaller boards will be put up in the next few weeks, with even more planned for the future. This continues the long-standing battle by Pinellas County law enforcement authorities against pain management clinics that they describe as “pill mills.”  Pinellas County includes the cities of St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Seminole.

The billboard message is a statement from local coalition groups who have partnered with Pinellas County in order to curb the area’s prescription drug abuse problem. In 2010, Pinellas County allegedly had the most occurrences of accidental overdose deaths from prescription drugs when compared to all other counties in Florida.

The intention of Pinellas County in establishing this billboard campaign may be aimed at stopping prescription drug abuse, but the billboards also shed negative light on legitimate pain management clinics and physicians. Although anti-prescription drug abuse campaigns are laudable, these efforts should focus on assisting those with actual prescription drug abuse history, rather than creating a scapegoat out of the pain management industry.

If you work in the pain management industry (physician, pharmacist, pain clinic, pharmacy, etc.) and feel that your medical license, pharmacy license, or business is at risk or is under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) or Florida Department of Health (DOH), please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com for more information about this.

Sources Include:

WFTS Staff, “County Sends Billboard-sized Message About Prescription Drug Abuse,”  ABC Action News (Apr. 6, 2012).  From:  http://www.abcactionnews.com/dpp/news/state/county-sends-billboard-sized-message-about-prescription-drug-abuse

“We’re Shutting Down Pill Mills in Pinellas County,” Tampa Bay Newspapers (Apr. 10, 2012). From:  http://www.tbnweekly.com/pinellas_county/content_articles/041012_pco-01.txt

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

Invoking Fifth Amendment by Applicant’s Personnel May Result in Denial of Their Application for a License

The foregoing case summary was prepared by and appeared in the DOAH case notes of the Administrative Law Section newsletter

FACTS: The Agency for Health Care Administration (“AHCA”) denied Avalon Assisted Living III’s (“Avalon III”) application for licensure of an assisted living facility in Orlando. Avalon III challenged the denial, and the case was referred to DOAH for a formal hearing. During AHCA’s attempts to obtain discovery, two people closely associated with Avalon III (Mr. Robert Walker and Mrs. Chiqquittia Carter-Walker) invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege against selfincrimination in response to questions regarding the grounds stated by AHCA in its initial decision to deny the license. These areas of inquiry included alleged unlicensed activity, the ownership and control of Avalon III, and Avalon III’s lease on the facility sought to be licensed. Based on Avalon III’s failure to provide any relevant information during three discovery depositions, AHCA filed a Motion to Dismiss on September 16, 2013. In an Order issued on September 27, 2013, the ALJ stated that dismissal of Avalon III’s petition and denial of its licensure application would be an appropriate sanction. However, in an abundance of caution, the ALJ gave Avalon III one more chance to have the Walkers answer deposition questions without invoking the Fifth Amendment. Avalon III responded to the Order by filing a notice that the Walkers would answer deposition questions regarding ownership and the lease without invoking the Fifth Amendment. Conspicuously absent from the notice was any assurance the Walkers would answer questions about the alleged unlicensed activity.

OUTCOME: The ALJ issued an Order recommending that AHCA deny Avalon III’s application. In contrast to licensure disciplinary cases in which the agency has the burden of proof, Avalon III had the burden of proving entitlement to licensure, and the Walkers were the only people with knowledge of the relevant issues. Accordingly, their refusal to answer deposition questions left Avalon III “in an untenable position,” preventing Avalon III from proving its entitlement to licensure.

Source:

Avalon’s Assisted Living III, LLC v. Agency for Health Care Administration, DOAH Case No. 09-6342 (Recommended Order Oct. 9, 2013).

About the Author: The foregoing case summary was prepared by and appeared in the DOAH case notes of the Administrative Law Section newsletter, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Dec. 2013), a publication of the Administrative law Section of The Florida Bar.

Preparing for a Florida Board of Medicine Informal Hearing

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

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

Limited Circumstances for Informal Administrative Hearing

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

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

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

What an Informal Administrative Hearing Is Not

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

Formal Administrative Hearing vs. Informal Hearing

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing for an Informal Hearing

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

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

Other Little Known Facts to Remember

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

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

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

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

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

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing physicians in investigations and at Board of Medicine hearings.  Call now or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

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

AHCA Expert Not Allowed to “Use His Discretion” in Deciding Claims Were Improper in Medicaid Appeal Hearing

FACTS: The Agency for Health Care Administration’s (“AHCA”) Office of Medicaid Program Integrity audited Dr. Rao, an authorized provider of Medicaid services, for claims between July 1, 2007, and June 30, 2009, and found him to be in violation of certain Medicaid provider policies. AHCA prepared a Final Audit Letter on June 1, 2011, notifying Dr. Rao that he had been overpaid by the Medicaid program by $110,712.09 for services provided during the audit period. Dr. Rao’s administrative hearing challenging AHCA’s overpayment determination was pending before DOAH. On August 17, 2012, Dr. Rao filed an unadopted rule challenge, alleging that AHCA’s overpayment determination was based on unadopted rules regarding the medical necessity of long-term monitored electroencephalograms (LTM EEGs).

OUTCOME: The ALJ found that AHCA’s peer review expert applied certain standards to the Medicaid claims he examined in conducting the Medicaid audit, but “exercised his discretion as to whether to apply them based on the specifics of each patient’s medical records.” The ALJ dismissed the unadopted rule challenge, explaining that “where application of agency policy is subject to the discretion of agency personnel, the policy is not a rule. . . . The medical standards at issue in this case are not self-executing and require the exercise of discretion in their application.” The ALJ noted that “the medical standards of practice must be applied on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the services provided were medically necessary, and provided both an appropriate level of care and standard of care ‘customarily furnished by the physician’s peers and to recognized health care standards” as required by section 409.9131(2)(d), Florida Statutes.

Source:

Radhakrishna K. Rao et al. v. AHCA, DOAH Case No. 12-2813RU (Final Order Aug. 20, 2013).

About the Author: The forgoing case summary was prepared by and appeared in the DOAH case notes of the Administrative Law Section newsletter, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Dec. 2013), a publication of the Administrative Law Section of The Florida Bar.

In Florida You Have Fifth Amendment Rights in a Department of Health Investigation of Your License

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

If you are contacted by a Florida Department of Health investigator, did you know that you are not required to make a statement or give any information that can be used against you?  If you are being investigated you have a right to refuse to speak with an investigator pursuant to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the equivalent rights given by the Florida Constitution, Article 1, Section 9.  However, because the Miranda decision does not apply to administrative proceedings, including licensure investigations, the DOH investigator does not have to inform you of this.

In some states other than Florida, the state’s law is such that a nurse, physician, dentist or other licensed health care professional is required to “cooperate” with the investigation, even though he or she may be punished or lose their license as a result.  THIS IS NOT THE CASE IN FLORIDA.

Florida Licensing Investigations Are Considered to Be “Penal” or “Quasi-criminal” in Nature.

Florida licensing investigations are considered to be “penal” or “quasi-criminal” in nature.  In Florida, a professional’s license is considered to be a property right.  So you also have the constitutional right not to be deprived of it without due process of law.  Due Process of law is guaranteed not only by the Florida and U.S. constitutional provisions cited above, but also by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. ConstitutionDue process of law includes the right to be represented by an attorney in any proceedings that might be initiated that may result in your losing your license.

In Florida, a long history of legal cases has resulted in the common law rule that administrative proceedings that may result in loss of a license must afford all of the protections that a criminal defendant would have in a criminal case.

Case Law in Florida.

In a 2004 case involving the Florida Department of Health, the Florida First District Court of Appeal stated:

Initially, it should not be forgotten that because professional disciplinary statutes are penal in nature, they must be strictly construed with any ambiguity interpreted in favor of the licensee. See Ocampo v. Dep’t of Health, 806 So. 2d 633, 634 (Fla. 1st DCA 2002);  Elmariah v. Dep’t of Prof. Reg., Board of Med., 574 So. 2d 164 (Fla. 1st DCA 1990).

Cone v. Dep’t of Health, 886 So. 2d 1007, 1011 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004).

The Florida Supreme Court confirmed that a licensee could assert a Fifth Amendment right in administrative proceedings in the 1973 case of State ex rel. Vining v. Florida Real Estate Commission, 281 So.2d 487 (1973).

In Vining a real estate broker was charged by the Florida Real Estate Commission of violating the Real Estate License Law.  Id. at 488.  The broker filed a sworn answer, as he was required to do under Florida Statute Section 475.30(1).  Id.  The broker later argued that the Florida statute violated his right against self-incrimination as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 9 of the Florida Constitution.  Id.

The Florida Supreme Court agreed, holding that “the right to remain silent applies not only to the traditional criminal case, but also to proceedings ‘penal’ in nature in that they tend to degrade the individual’s professional standing, professional reputation or livelihood.”  Id. at 491 (citing Spevack v. Klein, 385 U.S. 511, 87 S.Ct. 625, 17 L.Ed.2d 574 (1967);  Stockham v. Stockham, 168 So. 2d 320 (Fla. 1964)).  More recently, courts have reaffirmed that Vining remains good law in Florida.  See Best Pool & Spa Service Co., Inc. v. Romanik, 622 So. 2d 65, 66 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993);  Scott v. Department of Professional Regulation, 603 So. 2d 519, 520 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992).

In Best Pool & Spa Service Co., Inc. v. Romanik, 622 So. 2d 65, 66 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993), for example, the Court of Appeal reiterated the ability of a defendant to claim the Fifth Amendment privilege in an administrative proceeding.  Best Pool involved a pool owner filing actions for negligence and breach of contract against a pool maintenance contractor and its president.  The circuit court required the president to answer questions at his deposition about his certifying to the county, in an application for license, that the contractor had liability insurance.  The Court of Appeal ruled that the president was allowed to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege with regard to questions on this issue.  The court stated in Best Pool: “requiring Kassover, the president, to answer these questions does violate his right against self incrimination, which applies not only to criminal matters but also administrative proceedings such as licensing.  Id. at 66.

There are many other cases which have held the same.

You Must Be Extremely Cautious When Dealing with a DOH Investigator or Any Investigator.

If you receive notice that a DOH disciplinary investigation has been opened against you, you may not even realize it or understand how serious the consequences may be.  The notice comes in the form of a simple letter or, more often nowadays, a phone call, followed by a letter.  The letter will be on Florida Department of Health letterhead and will, in most cases,  be signed by a person whose job title is “Medical Malpractice Investigator,” “Quality Assurance Investigator” or some other title that might throw you off.

If you think you are giving information to be used in connection with a true quality assurance matter, such as would be confidential and privileged in a hospital or health institution, think again.  This is an investigation that could result in your having to pay thousands of dollars in fines, thousands of dollars in investigative costs and suspension or loss of your license.  Worse yet are the other consequences that having discipline on your professional license will bring, including difficulty in obtaining employment, reports being made to national data banks, etc.  Please see some of the other articles we have on our blog and on our website about all of the unforeseen consequences of discipline on your license.

Have You Been Told the Investigation Is Not Aimed at You?  Watch Out!

Even if the investigator attempts to ensure you that the investigation is not aimed at you, watch out!  It may not be aimed at you today, but it may be aimed at you tomorrow.  Additionally, even if the particular investigation that you are being questioned about is not directed against you, there may be another investigation that has been opened against you.  Your statement can and will be sued against you in that other investigation.

I was told by a DOH investigator one time that my clients (who were a director of nursing (DON), assistant director of nursing (ADON), an administrator and a medical director) were not being investigated, but that another health professional was.  My clients cooperated and gave statements for use in the investigation of the other person.  A short time later, additional investigations were opened against all of them, too.  Fortunately we eventually had all of the charges against all of them dismissed.  But I have not trusted investigators since then.

Don’t Wait Until it is Too Late; Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Representing Health Professionals Now.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm routinely represent nurses, ARNPs, CRNAs, physicians, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists, mental health counselors, social workers, massage therapists, medical groups, clinics, pharmacists, pharmacies, home health agencies, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other healthcare providers in licensing investigations, regulatory matters, in board actions and in administrative hearings.  Call now at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

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

Disclaimer: Please note that this article represents our opinions based on our many years of practice and experience in this area of health law. You may have a different opinion; you are welcome to it. This one is mine.  This article is for informational purposes only; it is not legal advice.

Physician Argues Definition of “Peer” at Formal Administrative Hearing

peer reviewFACTS: The Agency for Health Care Administration (“AHCA”) is responsible for administering Florida’s Medicaid program and conducting investigations and audits of paid claims to ascertain if Medicaid providers have been overpaid. With regard to investigations of physicians, section 409.9131, Florida Statutes, provides that AHCA must have a “peer” evaluate Medicaid claims before the initiation of formal proceedings by AHCA to recover overpayments. Section 409.9131(2)(c) defines a “peer” as “a Florida licensed physician who is, to the maximum extent possible, of the same specialty or subspecialty, licensed under the same chapter, and in active practice.” Section “109.9131(2)(a) deems a physician to be in “active practice” if he or she has “regularly provided medical care and treatment to patients within the past two years.”

Alfred Murciano, M.D., treats patients who are hospitalized in Level III neonatal intensive care units and pediatric intensive care units in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach County hospitals. His practice is limited to pediatric infectious disease. He has been certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in two areas: General Pediatrics and Pediatric Infectious Diseases. AHCA initiated a review of Medicaid claims submitted by Dr. Murciano between September 1, 2008, and August 31, 2010, and referred those claims to Richard Keith O’Hern, M.D., for peer review. Dr. O’Hern practiced medicine for 37 years, and was engaged in a private general pediatric practice until he retired in December of 2012. During the course of his career, he was certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in General Pediatrics, completed a one-year infectious disease fellowship at the The University of Florida, and treated approximately 16,000 babies with infectious disease issues. However, he was never board certified in pediatric infectious diseases, and at the time he reviewed Dr. Murciano’s Medicaid claims, Dr. O’Hern would have been ineligible for board certification in pediatric infectious diseases. In addition, Dr. O’Hern would have been unable to treat Dr. Murciano’s hospitalized patients in Level III NICUs and PICUs.

After Dr. O’Hern’s review, AHCA issued a Final Agency Audit Report alleging Dr Murciano had been overpaid by $l,051.992.99, and that he was required to reimburse AHCA for the overpayment. In addition, AHCA stated it was seeking to impose a fine of $210,398.60.

OUTCOME: Dr. Murciano argued at the formal administrative hearing that Dr O’Hern was not a “peer” as that term is defined in section 409.9131(20)(c). The ALJ agreed and issued a Recommended Order on May 22, 2014, recommending that AHCA’s case be dismissed because it failed to satisfy a condition precedent to initiating formal proceedings. While recognizing that AHCA is not required to retain a reviewing physician with the exact credentials as the physician under review, the ALJ concluded Dr. O’Hern was not of the same specialty as Dr. Murciano.

On July 31, 2014, AHCA rendered a Partial Final Order rejecting the ALJ’s conclusion that Dr. O’Hern was not a “peer.” In the course of ruling that it has substantive jurisdiction over such conclusions and that its interpretation of section 409.9131(2)(c), Florida Statutes, is entitled to deference, AHCA stated that it interprets the statute “to mean that the peer must practice in the same area as Respondent, hold the same professional license as Respondent, and be in active practice like Respondent.” AHCA concluded that “Dr. O’Hern is indeed a ‘peer’ of Respondent under the Agency’s interpretation of Section 409.9131(2)(c), Florida Statutes, because he too has a Florida medical license, is a pediatrician and had an active practice at the time he reviewed Respondent’s records. That Dr. O’Hern did not hold the same certification as Respondent, or have a professional practice identical to Respondent in no way means he is not a ‘peer’ of Respondent.” AHCA’s rejection of the ALJ’s conclusion of law regarding Dr. O’Hern’s “peer” status caused AHCA to remand the case back to the ALJ to make the factual findings on the claimed overpayments that were not made in the Recommended Order because of the ALJ’s conclusion that Dr. O’Hern did not qualify as a “peer.”

On August 18, 2014, the ALJ issued an Order respectfully declining AHCA’s remand. AHCA then filed a Petition for writ of Mandamus in the First District Court of Appeal, asking the court to direct the ALA to accept the remand and to enter findings of fact and conclusions of law with regard to each overpayment claim. The court assigned case number 1D14-3836 to AHCA’s Petition, and the case is pending.
Source:

AHCA v. Alfred Murciano, M.D., DOAH Case No. 13-0795MPI (Recommended Order May 22, 2014), AHCA Rendition No. 14-687-FOF-MDO (Partial Final Order July 31, 2014)
About the Author: The forgoing case summary was prepared by and appeared in the DOAH case notes of the Administrative Law Section newsletter, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Dec. 2014), a publication of the Administrative Law Section of The Florida Bar.

Assisted Living Facilities (ALFs) Allowed to Terminate a Resident For Almost Any Reason

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

Currently, Florida law and regulations allow an assisted living facility (ALF) to relocate or terminate a resident for almost any reason. However, the administrator must provide a 45-day notice and document the reason for termination or relocation.

Section 429.28(k), Florida Statutes (2011), states that an ALF resident must receive:

At least 45 days’ notice of relocation or termination of residency from the facility unless, for medical reasons, the resident is certified by a physician to require an emergency relocation to a facility providing a more skilled level of care or the resident engages in a pattern of conduct that is harmful or offensive to other residents. In the case of a resident who has been adjudicated mentally incapacitated, the guardian shall be given at least 45 days’ notice of a nonemergency relocation or residency termination. Reasons for relocation shall be set forth in writing. In order for a facility to terminate the residency of an individual without notice as provided herein, the facility shall show good cause in a court of competent jurisdiction.

A reason for termination or relocation can be as broad as “the patient isn’t happy here,” as long as a reason is given.

To view Chapter 429, Florida Statutes, which details Florida law relating to assisted living facilities, click here.

In Florida, assisted living facilities are licensed and regulated by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA).

Although there have been consumer complaints and lobbying to change the law, at the present time the ALF is at liberty to do this. No hearing or other rights are required by law.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Assisted Living Facility Cases.

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys represent assisted living facilities (ALFs) and ALF employees in a number of different matters including incorporation, preparing contracts, defending the facility against malpractice claims, licensing and regulatory matters, administrative hearings, and routine legal advice.

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

Sources Include:

Crochet, Jim. “ALF Residents Lack Protection.” Miami Herald. (April 2, 2012). From: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/04/02/2723745/alf-residents-lack-protection.html

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

Trial Court Must Hold Evidentiary Hearing to Determine Disputed Facts in Public Records Act Suit

10 Indest-2008-7Edited by George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in the Legal Specialty of Health Law

An interesting summary of a Florida appellate case from Florida’s First District Court of Appeal recently came across my desk. Florida has a very broad Public Records Act and Sunshine Act. We are often involved in suing state agencies for force disclosure of documents and information.

The following is from a summary that was originally published in the newsletter of the Florida Bar’s Administrative Law Section.

Clay Cnty. Ed. Ass’n u. Clay Cnty. Sch. Bd., 144 So. 3d 708 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014).

After requesting various public records related to the Clay County School Board’s operation, and receiving only some of the responsive documents, the Clay County Education Association (CCEA) filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the circuit court to compel production of the records. In unsworn defenses to the complaint, the school board stated that it had already produced the documents, did not have the information in the requested format, or that the requested documents did not exist. The circuit court granted the school board’s motion to dismiss the complaint, and the CCEA appealed.

The First District Court of Appeal reversed, finding that CCEA’s petition for writ of mandamus was legally sufficient. The complaint alleged a violation of a clear legal right and breach of an indisputable legal duty, thereby showing a prima facie basis for relief.

The appellate court also concluded that the circuit court erred by failing to hold an evidentiary hearing to resolve disputed issues of fact, which CCEA requested. The school board’s defenses likewise created issues of fact that should have been grounds for a priority bearing under section 119.01, Florida Statutes.

Additional Comments.

This case is important for several reasons. It took place in the First District Court of Appeal. Since most Florida agencies are located in Tallahassee, most Public Records Act cases are filed there. Additionally this shows that the Florida Appellate Courts will require trial courts to actually have evidentiary hearings and trials when there are facts in contention between the parties, which is good for citizens.

Contact The Health Law Firm Attorneys Experienced in Administrative Law.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent clients in administrative and civil litigation (both state and federal) throughout the state and in other states as permitted by their rules. We also represent clients in cases involving the Florida Public Records Act, the Sunshine Act, the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act. Our attorneys are available to provide emergency hearing coverage, administrative hearing representation, emergency board representation (Board of Medicine, Board of Dentistry, Board of Nursing, Board of Osteopathic Medicine, Board of Pharmacy, Board of Psychology, Board of Licensed Clinical Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy & Mental Health Counseling and other professional boards), as well as the Agency for Health Care Administration, emergency deposition coverage and other litigation coverage on short notice. Should you need local counsel or just coverage for a hearing or deposition, we are available; contact us.

Source: The original case summary discussed above was originally published in the Administrative Law Section Newsletter, Vol. 34, No. 2 (Dec. 2014), a publication of The Administrative Law Section of the Florida Bar.

 

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
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Orlando-based Assisted Living Facilities Appeal ALJ Decision, Win Case Against AHCA

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

Two related assisted living facilities (ALFs) based in Orlando won a case against the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) on appeal. The First District Court of Appeal heard the case and filed an opinion in favor of the ALFs on November 30, 2011.

 To view the opinion in this case, click here.

Appeals Court Dismissed Three Complaints Made by AHCA.

On appeal, the ALFs challenged a final order issued by AHCA. The amended final order revoked the ALFs’ licenses, denied their licensure renewal applications, and imposed administrative fines. 

After conducting an investigation, AHCA filed a four count administrative complaint. The court of appeal dismissed AHCA’s conclusion that the first three counts were proven. The appeal court dismissed these counts because they consisted of uncorroborated hearsay.

AHCA Alleged ALFs’ Owners Operated Third Facility Without a Valid License.

The fourth count against the ALFs alleged that the ALFs’ owners/administrators operated a third Florida facility without obtaining a valid license or qualifying for a license exemption. The ALFs argued that AHCA failed to present any witness at the administrative hearing who had first-hand knowledge that the facility in question was providing personal services “for a period of 24 hours to one or more adults who are not relatives of the owner or administrator.” These are material elements of the statutory definition of assisted living facility that AHCA was required to prove.

AHCA Offered Testimony from the ALFs’ Employees at Administrative Hearing.

At the administrative hearing, AHCA offered testimony from an employee who worked at the third facility from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. She testified that the facility had five or six residents when she worked there for six weeks in Summer 2009. She said that she never saw a resident leave the facility at the end of the day or arrive in the morning.

In the recommended order, the administrative law judge (ALJ) found that there was no evidence presented by the ALFs that the residents were transported to another location at night. Click here to view the recommended order.

Court of Appeal Rules ALJ Improperly Shifted the Burden of Proof, Reverses Final Order.

The First District Court of Appeal ruled that the ALJ improperly shifted the burden of proof to the ALFs. The burden was misplaced when the ALJ suggested that the ALFs should have provided proof that the residents were transported out of the facility during the night. According to the court of appeal, it was AHCA’s burden to establish that the facility was an unlicensed ALF. Furthermore, the court ruled that the testimony offered by AHCA did not foreclose the possibility that these residents were at the facility for periods less than 24 hours. Therefore, the court ruled that AHCA did not meet its burden of proof. The final order was reversed.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Assisted Living Facilities.

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys represent assisted living facilities (ALFs) and ALF employees in a number of different matters including incorporation, preparing contracts, defending the facility against malpractice claims, licensing and regulatory matters, administrative hearings, and routine legal advice.

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

Sources Include:

Smallwood, Mary F. “Adjudicatory Proceedings.” Administrative Law Section Newsletter. (Apr. 2012).

LeadingAge Florida. “Florida Supreme Court Requested to Hear ALF Case.” LeadingAge Florida. (2012). From: http://www.fahsa.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=96

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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