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Osceola County Authorities Nab 29 People in Phony Prescription Ring

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

A sting on a prescription fraud ring netted 29 arrests in Osceola County, Florida. On December 13, 2012. Osceola County Investigative Bureau (OCIB) agents, along with the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, Kissimmee Police Department and St. Cloud Police Department conducted an operation nicknamed “Rx Printshop,” according to a press release from the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department.

Click here to read the entire press release from the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department.

Alleged Criminals Getting Phony Prescriptions Filled at Legitimate Pharmacies.

According to the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department, operation “Rx Printshop” targeted a group of people who printed fake prescriptions for painkillers, including oxycodone. The individuals involved would fill the prescriptions at legitimate pharmacies. The pills would then be sold illegally on the streets, according to the sheriff’s department. The people filling the phony prescriptions would be paid with the fraudulently obtained pills for their roles in pretending to be patients.

Those filling the prescriptions are nicknamed “smurfs.” They are usually hired by a drug ring. They return the pills from the prescriptions they get filled back to the ring-leaders. To read a blog on a similar raid in Polk County, click here.

29 People Arrested – More to Come.

According to CF News 13, the phony prescriptions were written using the DEA numbers of unknowing physicians. The physicians apparently have nothing to do with the scheme.

Agents allegedly arrested 29 suspects on felony warrants. Most of them will be charged with conspiracy to traffic drugs, in addition to obtaining prescriptions by fraud, according to CF News 13. Agents are still looking for four suspects who have similar arrest warrants outstanding.

Click here to see a list of those arrested in operation “Rx Printshop,” and those suspects still on the run.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Representing Pharmacists and Pharmacies.
The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to physicians, pharmacists and pharmacies in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations, administrative hearings and other actions involving health professionals and providers.

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

Comments?

As a pharmacist, how do you verify prescriptions you receive are legitimate? As a physician, how do you keep your DEA number safe? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

CF News 13. “29 People Busted in Fake Prescription Sting.” CF News 13. (December 14, 2012). From: http://www.cfnews13.com/content/news/cfnews13/news/article.html/content/news/articles/cfn/2012/12/14/_29_people_busted_in.html

Weiner, Jeff. “Fake-Prescription Ring Busted in Sting.” Orlando Sentinel. (December 15, 2012). From: http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-12-14/news/os-prescription-sting-arrests-osceola-20121214_1_prescription-fraud-fraudulent-prescriptions-oxycodone-and-other-drugs

Osceola County Sheriff’s Office. “OCIB Arrests 29 in Operation Rx Printshop.” Osceola County Sheriff’s Office. (December 14, 2012). From: http://www.osceolasheriff.org/sheriff/113-22016-0/ocib_arrests_29_in_operation_rx_printshop.cfm

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.

 

“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.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Puts Recovery Audit Contractor Program on Hold

4 Indest-2009-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On February 18, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced it is in the procurement process for the next round of Recovery Audit Program contracts. This means the program is, for the time being, on hold while CMS awards new contracts. According to CMS, it will select new vendors to continue the Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) program, which is responsible for detecting improper Medicare payments. It is expected that this pause will also be used to refine and improve the RAC program. In the announcement it was not disclosed how long the program would be on hold.

Click here to read the announcement from CMS.

This news comes months after CMS revealed an enormous backlog of RAC appeals. The backup is so bad, providers are not able to submit new cases until the existing backlog clears, which could take two years or more.

Current Contracts Extended to Conclude Appeals.

According to Modern Healthcare, CMS extended its contracts with the four current vendors until December 31, 2015, for administrative and transition activities. These contracts were to end on February 7, 2014. The purpose of the extension is to allow the RACs to handle and wind down appeals. To read the entire article from Modern Healthcare, click here.

For providers this means a lull in additional documentation requests (ADRs), however it is important to remember RAC audits are not going away.

Dates to Remember.

Providers should note the important dates below:

– February 21, 2014, was the last day a Recovery Auditor could send a postpayment ADR;
– February 28, 2014, is the last day a Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) may send prepayment ADRs for the Recovery Auditor Prepayment Review Demonstration; and
– June 1, 2014, is the last day a Recovery Auditor may send improper payment files to the MACs for adjustment.

Backlog of RAC Appeals Worse Than Ever.

The RAC appeals process has become so overloaded that in December 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA) notified hospitals, doctors, nursing homes and other health care providers that the agency would be suspending acting on new requests for hearings. Health care providers were told they would not be able to submit any new appeals until the existing backlog clears, which could take two or more years. To read more on the backlog of RAC appeals, click here for my previous blog.

RAC Audits Will Be Back.

In the first three months of the fiscal year 2013, RACs recouped more than $2.2 billion from providers due to what the RACs deemed were overpayments. With money coming in, RAC audits are not going away. It has become common for state and federal regulators to enforce even the smallest violations, resulting in investigations, monetary fines and penalties. If found in violation, you will not only have to pay fines and face disciplinary action, you will also lose revenue because you will have to spend time dealing with the investigation, instead of practicing medicine. Whether you are trying to prevent Medicare and Medicaid audits, Zone Program Integrity Contractor (ZPIC) audits, or any other kind of healthcare audits, there are steps you can implement in your practice today that may save you down the line. Click here to read more on self audits.

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

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S. They also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.

For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Comments?

What do you think about the RAC program being put on hold? What do you think CMS should do to improve the program? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Kutscher, Beth. “CMS Recovery Audits on Hold as Contractors Wrestle Big Backlog.” Modern Healthcare. (February 20, 2014). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20140220/NEWS/302209968/cms-recovery-audits-on-hold-as-contractors-deal-with-big-backlog

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Recent Updates.” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (February 18, 2014). From: http://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Monitoring-Programs/Medicare-FFS-Compliance-Programs/Recovery-Audit-Program/Recent_Updates.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.

 

“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.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

What Health Providers Need to Know About Telemedicine

6 Indest-2008-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

For years providing health care to patients has been at a location that is convenient to the health provider. With emerging trends in telemedicine and upcoming healthcare reforms, recently enacted, patients may begin to enjoy the convenience of medical evaluation and follow-up by video, telephone and computer. The biggest bar to this to date has been the refusal of Medicare, Medicaid and insurers to pay for this, along with restrictive state board of medicine regulations prohibiting it. For example, a big thorn in the side of physicians treating pain management patients has been regulatory prohibitions by the Florida Board of Medicine.

According to a Star Tribune article, 30 million Americans are expected to gain access to insurance through the Health Care Reform Act in 2014. Telemedicine is one effective and low-cost solution to treat easy-to-diagnose medical conditions. It is also expected to assist in relieving the looming shortage of physicians.

Telemedicine uses technologies, such as the internet, streaming media, telephones and video conferences to meet the needs of patients. When deciding whether to establish a telemedicine program it is important to look at the state licensure requirements, as requirements are different in each state.

Click here for a breakdown of telemedicine legislation by state.

What You Need to Know About Telemedicine in the Sunshine State.

According to rule 64B15-14.008, Florida Administrative Code, prescribing medication based solely on an electronic medical questionnaire constitutes unprofessional conduct and it groups for disciplinary action. At least in Florida, the medical authorities have required that physicians must see the patient in person in a face-to-face encounter before prescribing medication. Physicians may not provide treatment recommendations unless a document patient evaluation has occurred, sufficient dialogue between the physician and patient regarding treatment options and the risks and benefits of treatment have occurred, and medical records are properly maintained.

Click here to learn more on the standards for telemedicine practices in Florida.

Federal laws and regulations may bring a change in the state requirements.

Online House Call.

Virtuwell is an online medical clinic offered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Patients log onto the Virtuwell website and answer a number of questions. Using the patient’s answers, a nurse practitioner will diagnose the ailment, give treatment advice and, if necessary, send a prescription to a pharmacy. This service costs around $40 per diagnosis. The Virtuwell website launched in 2010. In just two years, more than 40,000 patients have logged on to receive medical advice. This form of telemedicine may be the future of health care.

To read more on Virtuwell from the Star Tribune, click here.

It is important to note that Minnesota allows physicians to offer this service if they are registered to practice telemedicine or are registered to practice across state lines.

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 health care provider. We represent facilities, individuals, groups and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers and acquisitions.

The services we provide include reviewing and negotiating contracts, business transactions, professional license defense, representation in investigations, credential defense, representation in peer review and clinical privileges hearings, Medicare and Medicaid audits, commercial litigation, and administrative hearings.

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

Comments?

What do you think of telemedicine? Do you think it is the future of doctor’s office visits? In your opinion what are the benefits and what are the difficulties of telemedicine? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Crosby, Jackie. “The New House Call is Online.” Star Tribune. (November 24, 2012). From: http://www.startribune.com/business/180632701.html

Gardner, Elizabeth. “Is Your Doctor Out of the Office? Try an E-Visit.” U.S. News. (September 4, 2012). From: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2012/09/04/is-your-doctor-out-of-the-office-try-an-e-visit

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.

“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.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Use Caution in USMLE Step Exam Preparation

CTH Blog LabelBy Catherine T. Hollis, J.D., The Health Law Firm and George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Bulletin of Information outlines several examples of conduct that is deemed to be irregular behavior.  On February 27, 2014, the USMLE posted an Announcement listing the types of alleged irregular behavior recently reviewed by the Committee for Individualized Review (CIR).  Some of the cases reviewed involved individuals who were accused of soliciting unauthorized access to examination materials or communicating about specific test items, cases, or answers with other examinees.  This particular type of irregular behavior seems to be increasingly alleged against individuals who have participated in online forum discussions requesting assistance with examination preparation.

Click here to read the entire February 27, 2014, USMLE Announcement.

Do Not Seek Specific Examination Materials or Attempt to Communicate With Other Examinees.

The USMLE is taking a hard line stance on enforcing its irregular behavior policies concerning soliciting test materials and communicating about specific test items.  We have recently seen a number of individuals accused of engaging in irregular behavior because of posts on forum websites that appear to be solicitations for specific examination materials or cases.  Some examples of these posts include:

–    Joining in requests from others for information on recent test questions after another individual’s post requesting Step 2 Clinical Skills  (CS) cases;
–    Requesting that others provide information about some of the cases at a specific test center;
–    Suggesting approaching examinees as they leave the exam center to ask about the exam; and
–    Requesting a list of CS cases for a specific test center.

Know the Rules.

All USMLE applicants are required to be familiar with the USMLE’s Bulletin of Information.  By signing a Step Exam application, an applicant is certifying that he or she has read and is familiar with all information contained in the Bulletin. You will still be held responsible for this whether you read it or not.

According to the Bulletin, irregular behavior includes any action that subverts or attempts to subvert the examination process.  As noted above, the Bulletin contains a non-exhaustive list of examples of conduct that is deemed to be irregular behavior.

Click here to read our previous blog about irregular behavior.

Irregular Behavior Has Serious Potential Consequences.

If an examinee is found to have engaged in irregular behavior, the CIR will impose sanctions.  These sanctions can include an annotation on an individual’s USMLE transcript, invalidation of scores, a report to the Federation of State Medical Boards, and even a bar from taking future USMLE examinations.

Appropriate Test Preparation.

Examinees can adequately prepare for the USMLE Step exams without the need to seek further assistance that might cross the line into irregular behavior.  On April 4, 2014, the USMLE posted an Announcement on its website with information about materials available from the USMLE, the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) and third parties. From the USMLE website, examinees can access free orientation and practice materials, including:

–    Informational materials on the overall USMLE program and content descriptions for each of the USMLE examinations;
–    Tutorials that illustrate the USMLE Step 1, Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK), Step 3 multiple-choice software and the Step 3 computer-based case simulation (CCS) Primum® software;
–    Sample multiple-choice test questions with answer keys for each Step exam;
–    Sample Step 3 CCS cases with feedback; and
–    Orientation materials for Step 2 CS.

Examinees may also, for a fee, take advantage of the self-assessment services offered by the NBME.  These services are designed to familiarize examinees with USMLE questions and provide feedback on the examinee’s areas of strength and weakness.

There are also a variety of commercial test preparation materials and courses that claim to prepare examinees for USMLE Step exams.  These courses are not affiliated with or sanctioned by the USMLE program, but may be helpful to you.

Click here to read the entire April 4, 2014, USMLE Announcement.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to medical students, residents, interns and fellows in academic disputes, graduate medical education (GME) hearings, contract negotiations, license applications, board certification applications and hearings, credential hearings, and civil and administrative litigations.

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

Comments?

Have you ever come across these online forums? Have you ever posted in these forums? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

“USMLE Takes Action Against Individuals Found to Have Engaged in Irregular Behavior.” USMLE. (February 27, 2014). From: http://www.usmle.org/announcements/?ContentId=130

“Use Caution in Selecting Review Courses.” USMLE. (April 4, 2014). From: http://www.usmle.org/announcements/?ContentId=67

“USMLE 2014 Bulletin of Information.” USMLE. (2013). From: http://www.usmle.org/pdfs/bulletin/2014bulletin.pdf

About the Authors:  Catherine T. Hollis is an attorney with 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, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

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.

“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.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

How Safe Is Your Hospital?

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

It’s been a long time since most of us have seen a report card, but hospitals all over the nation received their safety grades on November 28, 2012. Leapfrog, a national group that advocates for safer health care, determined the grades. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Florida hospitals ranked well. Overall, 39 percent (39%) of the 156 hospitals graded received A’s, earning the Sunshine State a tenth place ranking in the nation.

Click here to read the entire article from the Orlando Sentinel.

How Florida Hospitals Did.

Here is a list of the grades received by Florida hospitals:

A’s: 61 (This includes Orlando Regional Medical Center, Dr. P. Phillips Hospital,

Orlando Regional South Seminole Hospital and Health Central.)

B’s: 38 (This includes Florida Hospital campuses in Orlando, Altamonte, Apopka, Celebration, east Orlando, Kissimmee and Winter Park.)

C’s: 49

D’s: 8

F’s: 0

To see the number of hospitals receiving each grade for patient safety by state, click here.

Grades Were Calculated by Safety Measures in Hospitals.

According to the Kaiser Health News article, Leapfrog calculated the grades based on 26 different measures of safety. The company used publicly-available data, including the number of blood line infections, falls in the hospital, bedsores and the consistency that hospitals follow recommended methods of care.

Physicians Believe Rating System is Pointless.

This grading system has physicians reportedly complaining. In the Kaiser Health News article doctors interviewed said that the grades are redundant and offer no benefit to hospitals since Medicare calculates and publishes most hospital-related issues.

Click here to read the Kaiser Health News article.

Leapfrog defends the ratings, saying the report cards provide a more transparent health care system for patients.

How to Fight Poor Online Reviews.

The Leapfrog grading system is just one of the many ways the performance of physicians, hospitals, nurses, dentists and all health providers is put on the chopping block. Other internet review websites like Vitals.com and Yelp.com allow patients to post virtually anything they want – good or bad. If you’ve personally received an unfavorable review that was possibly planted by a disgruntled patient, competitor or former employee you need to fight it. When the comment is posted, search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, AOL, or MSN may bring up the false statement every time someone searches for that health provider’s name. To learn legal strategies for health providers to fight bad online reviews, click 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, Durable Medical Equipment suppliers, medical students and interns, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other health care provider. We represent facilities, individuals, groups and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers and acquisitions.

The services we provide include reviewing and negotiating contracts, business transactions, professional license defense, representation in investigations, credential defense, representation in peer review and clinical privileges hearings, Medicare and Medicaid audits, commercial litigation, and administrative hearings.

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

Comments?

As a health professional, do you think this grading system is redundant? Do you believe there is any merit to the grades hospitals received? Do you think patients benefit from the published grades? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Jameson, Marni. “Did Your Hospital Make the Grade? Group Rates Quality of Care, More.” Orlando Sentinel. (November 28, 2012). From: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-leapfrog-hospital-grades-20121127,0,5928170.story

Rau, Jordan. “Hospitals Get New Grades on Safety.” Kaiser Health News. (November 28, 2012). From: http://capsules.kaiserhealthnews.org/index.php/2012/11/hospitals-get-new-grades-on-safety/

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.

“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.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

The RACs, They’re Back! The Return of Medicare Recovery Audits

Patricia's Photos 013By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

All good things must come to an end. This includes the two-month hiatus from Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs) that healthcare professionals enjoyed. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is restarting audits of Medicare fee-for-service claims on a limited basis. The program has been suspended since June 1, 2014, due to expired contracts.

CMS announced the return of RACs on August 4, 2014.

Click here to read the latest announcements on Medicare recovery audits from CMS.

From what we have heard, there were serious problems with some of the audits that had been conducted by the RACs and CMS desired to start over with a clean slate. Just saying!

What Does Limited Basis Mean?

According to CMS, current RACs will conduct a limited number of automated reviews and a small number of complex reviews on certain claims including, but not limited to:

– Spinal fusions;
– Outpatient therapy services;
– Durable medical equipment;
– Prosthetics;
– Orthotics; and
– Supplies and cosmetic procedures.

RACs will not conduct any inpatient hospital patient status reviews for now. In the past, short inpatient stays accounted for 91 percent of the money the program recovered for Medicare.

Controversial Program.

According to an article on HealthData Management, in February 2014, members of congress argued that parts of the RAC program are unfair and violate the way that the Medicare program was intended to operate by raising out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries. To address this concern, CMS established a provider relations coordinator to increase program transparency. This was announced in June 2014, so it is too soon to determine if this position will help providers affected by the medical review process. Click here to read more from HealthData Management.

Healthcare providers have complained that they are fed up with Medicare recovery audits tying up crucial funds and physician time in endless appeals. Currently, appeals can take up to five years. There is also a two-year moratorium in place preventing new appeals from being filed. You may remember my previous blog on the enormous backlog of Medicare recovery audit appeals. Click here to read that post.

What Exactly is a RAC?

RACs are often referred to as “bounty hunters.” They are private companies contracted by CMS, used to identify Medicare overpayments and underpayments, and return Medicare overpayments to the Medicare Trust Fund. Since the program began in 2009, it has brought in more than $8 billion in allegedly fraudulent, wasteful and abusive payments to healthcare providers.

How to Prepare for a Medicare Recovery Audit.

There is no such thing as a routine Medicare audit. The fact is that there is some item you have claimed as a Medicare provider or the amount of claims Medicare has paid in a certain category that has caused you or your practice to be audited.

I previously wrote a blog highlighting some of the actions we recommend you take in responding to a Medicare audit. The most important step you should take is to consult an experienced health law attorney early in the audit process to assist in preparing the response. Click here to read more on how to respond to a Medicare audit.

We Told You RACs Would Be Back.

RACs apparently caught $3.7 billion in allegedly wasteful payments that Medicare made to healthcare providers in 2013, and was allegedly on pace to bring back $5 billion this year. That’s why the government was eager to get RACs back to work.

It is extremely common for state and federal regulators to enforce even the smallest violations, resulting in investigations, monetary fines and penalties. If found in violation, you will not only have to pay fines and face disciplinary action, you will also lose revenue because you will have to spend time dealing with the investigation, instead of practicing medicine. Whether you are trying to prevent Medicare and Medicaid audits, Zone Program Integrity Contractor (ZPIC) audits, or any other kind of healthcare audits, there are steps you can implement in your practice today that may save you down the line. Click here to read more on self audits.

Comments?

What do you think about the return of Medicare recovery audits? What are you thoughts on Recovery Audit Contractors? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

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

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S. They also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.

For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Sources:

Demko, Paul. “Controversial Medicare Recovery Audits Make Limited Return.” Modern Healthcare. (August 5, 2014). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20140805/NEWS/308059962/controversial-medicare-recovery-audits-make-limited-return

Goedert, Joseph. “CMS Restarts Parts of the RAC Program.” HealthData Management. (August 5,2014). From: http://www.healthdatamanagement.com/news/CMS-Restarts-Parts-of-the-RAC-Program-48553-1.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.

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.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Burden of Proof in Administrative Cases Involving Discipline of a Health Professional’s License – Part 1

1 Indest-2008-1By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

I am often asked about the burden of proof that must be met by the state Department of Health (DOH) in professional licensing disciplinary cases.  This could be a complaint against a physician, dentists, mental health counselor, nurse, psychologist, pharmacist or anyone else.  It also includes, for example, engineers, general contractors, school teachers, architects, cosmetologists, or any other professional holding a professional license in Florida.  However, since we routinely represent health professionals, I will concentrate on those licenses by the state DOH in this blog.

Overview.

What few people (even attorneys) know is that cases which involve discipline against a professional’s license are treated as “punitive” or “penal” cases.  This means the standards applied to them, at least in Florida, are the same that are applied to criminal cases.

Therefore, if the statute that is being charged is unclear or ambiguous, the courts apply a “strict scrutiny” standard.  If the language of the statute does not clearly prohibit the acts being charged or is unclear about being covered by the statute, then there should be a ruling in favor of the one charged.

Additionally, rights that apply in criminal cases, such as the right to have an attorney and the right to not be compelled to be a witness against oneself found in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, also apply to administrative cases involving discipline against a license holder.

The state has a higher burden of proof in an administrative licensure case, as well.  The burden of proof that applies in a civil case, “preponderance of the evidence” (also described as the greater weight of the evidence, the preponderance of the evidence or more than fifty percent), does not apply in administrative discipline cases.  Instead a higher burden, “clear and convincing evidence” applies.  Therefore, if the evidence supports the license holder’s position, just as much as it supports the state’s case, the state loses.

How Constitutional Rights Are Involved.

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides individuals protection against self-incrimination, stating:

No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. . . .

Note that in Florida, as in most states, a professional license is considered to be a property right which cannot be taken by the state without due process of law.

Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution of Florida also provides similar protections stating:

No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law . . . or be compelled in any criminal matter to be a witness against oneself.

In addition, case law in Florida has upheld as a protected right the individual’s ability to practice a profession of choice if otherwise so qualified.  To take away this right requires due process of law and reviewing courts will apply a strict scrutiny standard.

Under some states’ constitutions or state statutes there is a right to work or a right to practice the profession of one’s choice;  this further lends credibility to an argument that agency actions which take away this substantial right should require a greater burden than that required in a mere civil case (i.e., preponderance of the evidence”).  However, even without such a provision in the state constitution, a professional license (or the right to practice a profession) is a substantial right and to take it away should require a higher burden of proof (e.g., clear and convincing).

Supreme Court Gives More Protection In Cases That Are “Penal.”

The law is settled through U.S. Supreme Court cases that “penal statutes are to be construed strictly, Commissioner v. Acker, 361.U.S. 87, 80 S. Ct. 144, 4. L. Ed. 2d 127 (1959), Fed’l Comm. Comm’n v. Am.  Broadcasting Co., 347  U.S. 284, 296.  One “is not to be subjected to a penalty unless the words of the statute plainly impose it,” Keppel v. Tiffin Savings Bank, 197 U.S. 356, 362.  See, e.g., Tiffany v. National Bank of Missouri, 18 Wall. 409, 410;  Elliott v. RR Co., 99 U.S. 573, 576.

Penal statutes must be construed narrowly and are interpreted against the state.  Any part or term that is vague will not be enforced or will be stricken.  Warren v. State,  16 Fla. L. Week 1346 (Fla. 1991).  Accord, Riley v. Georgia,  219 Ga. 345, 133 S.E. 2d 367 (Ga. 1963);  State v. Morrison, 25 N.J. Super. 534, 96 A. 2d 723 (Essex Cty. Ct., N.J., 1953);  U.S. v. Ortiz, 24 M.J. 164 (CMA 1987), at 168.

Florida Courts Apply Criminal Law Rights and Protections to Cases Involving Administrative Penalties.

The Florida Supreme Court has affirmatively extended the proscription against self-incrimination to any administrative proceeding of a “penal” character.  This could be one in which the state seeks revocation or suspension of a license or one in which the state seeks a fine on a licensee.  Kozerowitz v. Fla. Real Estate Comm’n, 289 So. 2d 391 (Fla. 1974).

Any administrative proceeding in which the state seeks to inflict a penalty against the license or the licensee would invoke these rights.  An action to revoke a professional license is penal.  So, too, is an action which results in the loss of income or a fine.

More to Come.

Be sure to check our blog regularly to learn more on the burden of proof in administrative cases involving discipline of professional licenses. Part two of this blog series will be posted soon.

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 health care provider. We represent facilities, individuals, groups and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers and acquisitions.

The services we provide include reviewing and negotiating contracts, business transactions, professional license defense, representation in investigations, credential defense, representation in peer review and clinical privileges hearings, Medicare and Medicaid audits, commercial litigation, and administrative hearings.

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

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

“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.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Watch Out for Legal Pitfalls Associated with Telemedicine

Lance Leider headshotBy Lance O. Leider, J.D., The Health Law Firm

With all the new technologies, mobile medical applications, expansion of access to health care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the emphasis on quality care, telemedicine is at the forefront of the health care industry.

Now is the time to educate yourself on the new opportunities in practicing telemedicine. As with any new health care business model, you also have to assess the risks and be sure you are complying with the ever increasing number of regulations.

Where Telemedicine Stands Today.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) can be credited for the telemedicine revival. In 2011, CMS issued a final rule permitting a more flexible process for credentialing and privileging practitioners who provide telemedicine services. Telemedicine escalated in 2013, when federal and state legislation and major insurers expanded the types of reimbursable telemedicine services. Now in 2014, there are more partnerships between insurers and health care delivery systems to provide patients access to specialists through telemedicine programs.
For example, WellPoint, Inc., and Aetna, Inc., among other health insurers, are letting millions of patients schedule online visits with health care professionals. These insurance companies are working together with companies that offer virtual visits with doctors who, in some states, can prescribe drugs for anything from sinus infections to back pain. According to Bloomberg, this is a major advancement for telemedicine. To read the entire article from Bloomberg, click here.

The Current Status of Telemedicine in Florida.

In March 2014, the Florida Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine adopted updated standards for practicing telemedicine. The final rule, 64B8-9.0141, Florida Administrative Code, defines telemedicine as:

the practice of medicine by a licensed Florida physician or physician assistant where patient care, treatment, or services are provided through the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications. Telemedicine shall not include the provision of health care services only through an audio only telephone, email messages, text messages, facsimile transmission, U.S. mail or other parcel service, or any combination thereof.

The rule states that the standard of care shall remain the same regardless of whether a physician provides services in person or by telemedicine. Also, those providing telemedicine services are responsible for the safety, security and adequacy of their equipment.

Several other parts of the new Florida telemedicine rule are worth noting:

1. Telemedicine is sufficient to establish a physician-patient relationship;
2. All regulations regarding patient confidentiality and record keeping are applicable;
3. The rule specifically exempts medical advice given by emergency responders including EMTs, paramedics and emergency dispatchers;
4. The rule also does not apply to physicians or physician assistants providing emergency care under conditions requiring immediate medical care; and
5. Florida law presently prohibits prescribing controlled substances via telemedicine.


Telemedicine and the Potential Legal Issues.

As telemedicine grows, so will the oversight and scrutiny by state medical boards and federal and state regulatory agencies. Here are some areas to be mindful of:

Reimbursement: This is continuously an issue with telemedicine. Medicare reimbursement for telemedicine services is limited and generally requires face-to-face contact between patients and providers. Medicaid reimbursement varies from state-to-state, and only about 20 states have enacted statutes that require reimbursement for certain telemedicine services. This means health care providers need to review Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement policies, state health insurance regulations, and provider payer contract requirements so that they are aware of the reimbursement requirements that may affect their billing. Educate yourself on what will and what won’t be reimbursed, and only submit compliant claims to avoid audits.

Fraud and Abuse: As a telemedicine provider, you will most likely initiate business arrangements between distinct health care entities that may include the lease of equipment or the use of a product owned, in part, by physicians. Arrangements like this need to be written with federal fraud and abuse laws in mind, including the Anti-Kickback Statute and the Stark Law. For more advice on telemedicine-related fraud issues, review advisory opinions issued by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

Medical Staff Bylaws: Health care organizations that depend on information from a distant-site hospital or telemedicine entity to credential and privilege telemedicine practitioners must revise their medical staff bylaws and policies to include criteria for granting privileges to distant practitioners, and a procedure for applying the criteria. Additions should also include what category of the medical staff distant-site telemedicine practitioners will join, the level of involvement they may have in medical staff committees, and what procedural rights they should be given.

Credentialing and Privileging: Under CMS’ final rule, health care organizations may rely on the credentialing and privileging decisions of distant-site hospitals or the information provided by other telemedicine entities when determining privileges for distant-site practitioners who provide telemedicine services, as long as certain conditions are met, including a compliant written agreement.

Patient Privacy: Providers are responsible for ensuring they have secure communication channels, implementing business associate and other confidentiality and privacy agreements, educating staff regarding the appropriate use of telemedicine, and understanding how and what patient information is being collected and stored.

Compliance with State Requirements: Most states require physicians engaging in telemedicine to be licensed in the state where the patient is located. It would be wise for health care organizations to seek the legal guidance of an experienced health law attorney to navigate individual state requirements.

Interactions with Pain Management Laws: Our practice has seen many physicians become the subject of some kind of government investigation or action resulting from the remote practice of medicine in a pain management setting. These telemedicine rules do not alter the status quo in pain management. Physicians are still required to see patients in a face-to-face encounter in order to prescribe controlled substances for the treatment of pain. There are discussions among the members of the Florida  Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine to permit limited prescribing of controlled substances through telemedicine. However, the boundaries of a future rule are unclear. Considering the hard-line stance the Boards have taken toward pain management in general, it is unlikely that any final rule would authorize the remote practice of pain management.

Health care providers need to stay mindful of the listed legal issues, and any others that may come up. It is important when practicing telemedicine to ensure your services are compliant, and you appropriately protect patient safety and privacy.

Comments?

Does your practice use telemedicine? In your opinion what are the benefits and what are the difficulties of telemedicine? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

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 health care provider. We represent facilities, individuals, groups and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers and acquisitions.

The services we provide include reviewing and negotiating contracts, business transactions, professional license defense, representation in investigations, credential defense, representation in peer review and clinical privileges hearings, Medicare and Medicaid audits, commercial litigation, and administrative hearings. To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

French, Marie. “The Doctor Will Click on You Now.” Bloomberg. (July 13, 2014). From: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-14/the-doctor-will-click-on-you-now.html

Kadzielski, Mark and Kim, Jee-Young. “Telemedicine: Many Opportunities, Many Legal Issues, Many Risks.” JD Supra. (July 30, 2014). From: http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/telemedicine-many-opportunities-many-l-18993/

About the Author: Lance O. Leider is an attorney with 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, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

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.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Burden of Proof in Administrative Cases Involving Discipline of a Health Professional’s License – Part 2

4 Indest-2009-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

I am often asked about the burden of proof that must be met by the state Department of Health (DOH) in professional licensing disciplinary cases. This could be a complaint against a physician, dentists, mental health counselor, nurse, psychologist, pharmacist or anyone else. It also includes, for example, engineers, general contractors, school teachers, architects, cosmetologists, or any other professional holding a professional license in Florida. However, since we routinely represent health professionals, I will continue to concentrate on those licenses by the state DOH in this blog. Click here to read part one.

Fifth Amendment Protection Against Self-Incrimination Applies.

Because potential license revocation proceedings are penal in nature, a respondent or license holder in such an investigation or administrative hearing has the right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and under the Florida Constitution.

Otherwise, this would defeat the spirit and intent of the constitutional protections guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United State Constitution. See, State v. Caballero, 396 So. 2d 1210, 1213 (Fla. 3d DCA 1981) (“A coerced confession offends due process of law.”); Dickerson v. U.S., 530 U.S. 428, 434, 120 S. Ct. 2326, 2331 (2000) (“We have never abandoned this due process jurisprudence, and thus continue to exclude confessions that were obtained involuntarily”); Chambers v. State of Fla., 309 U.S. 227, 228, 60 S. Ct. 472, 473 (1940) (“[U]se by a state of an improperly obtained confession may constitute a denial of due process of law as guaranteed in the Fourteenth Amendment”); and Barnes v. Merrill, 2002 WL 1313123 (D. Me. 2002) (“Involuntary statements are inadmissible under the Fifth Amendment requirement that no person can be compelled to be a witness against himself in a criminal case.”).

For Florida cases on point, see, Chancellor Media Whiteco Outdoor v. Fla. Dep’t of Transport., 26 Fla. L. Weekly D627 (Fla. 5th DCA March 2, 2001), substitute opinion entered on rehearing, 795 So. 2d 991, 26 Fla. L. Weekly D1894 (Fla. 5th DCA July 30, 2001). See also, State ex rel. Vining v. Fla. Real Estate Comm’n, 281 So.2d 487, 491 (Fla. 1973); Best Pool & Spa Service Co., Inc. v. Romanik, 622 So. 2d 65, 66 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993) (“We agree that requiring Kassover to answer . . . questions does violate his right against self-incrimination which applies not only to criminal matters but also administrative proceedings such as licensing”).

Florida Courts Require Higher Standard for Administrative Licensure Cases.

In Florida, the courts have adopted and have required the “clear and convincing” standard to be used in any case involving a professional license, finding that such action by the state is punitive or penal in nature and affects a substantial right of the respondent. The key Florida cases that discuss this are two Florida Supreme Court cases, Florida Bar v. Rayman, 238 So. 2d 594 (Fla. 1970) and Ferris v. Turlington, 510 So. 2d 292 (Fla. 1987). See also, Kozerowitz v. Fla. Real Estate Comm’n, 289 So. 2d 391 (Fla. 1974).

Any case in which a state administrative agency seeks a penalty, a fine or action affecting the status of a professional license, would require the application of a “clear and convincing standard.” An action to revoke a professional license is definitely considered to be penal. So too is an action which results in the loss of income, such as by suspending a license (so there is no professional income), a fine, or an order to refund professional fees. McDonald v. Dep’t of Prof. Reg., Bd. of Pilot Commissioners, 582 So. 2d 660 (1st DCA 1991)

Although these are all Florida cases, if you read them and follow their rationale, they go back to basic constitutional principles of due process of law and the taking away of rights or property without due process.

For example, in one case in which I defended a nursing home’s license, the state had evidence that contradicted itself. There were certain facts at issue and the state put forth two different sets of facts. The state could not prove either set of facts by “clear and convincing evidence.” Therefore, by law, the administrative law judge had to rule in favor of the license holder.

Penal Statutes, Such as Professional Discipline Statutes and Professional Practice Acts Must Be Narrowly Interpreted.

A statute is unconstitutionally void for vagueness if it fails to give a personal of ordinary intelligence fair notice of what conduct is forbidden by the Statute. Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156, 92 S. Ct. 839, 31 L. Ed. 2d 110 (1972). United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 74 S. Ct. 808, 98 L. Ed. 989, (1954). Criminal statutes must be written with sufficient specificity so that citizens are given fair warning of the offending conduct, and law enforcement officers are prevented from engaging in arbitrary and erratic enforcement activity. Papachristou; Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88, 60 S. Ct. 736, 84 L. Ed. 1093 (1940); Lanzetta v. New Jersey, 306 U.S. 451, 59 S. Ct. 618, 83 L. Ed. 888 (1939).

Florida case law has long upheld this principle of the common law as well. Statutes must be written well enough so as to provide fair notice to ordinary citizens as to their exact meaning. State v. Warren, 558 So. 2d 55 (Fla. 5th DCA 1990), aff’d. Warren v. State 16 Fla., L. Week 28 (Fla. 1991).

When First Notified of a Pending Investigation Seek the Advice of an Experienced Health Law Attorney.

When you receive any notice, by telephone, by mail, by hand delivery or by information passed along by your employer, that an investigation has been opened against your professional license, immediately contact an attorney experienced in such matters. Do not talk to the investigator. Do not talk to the prosecuting attorney. Do not call the state agency and ask for advice on what you should do. Do not send a written statement explaining your side of the story.

You have important constitutional rights that protect you. But you have to exercise the common sense required to use these rights. Part of this is by obtaining competent legal counsel who can advise you and protect your rights. Again, we remind you that unless an attorney routinely handles this type of case, he or she may be unfamiliar with what your rights are in such a situation or how to handle it.

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 health care provider. We represent facilities, individuals, groups and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers and acquisitions.

The services we provide include reviewing and negotiating contracts, business transactions, professional license defense, representation in investigations, credential defense, representation in peer review and clinical privileges hearings, Medicare and Medicaid audits, commercial litigation, and administrative hearings.

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

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

“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.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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.

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