What is the corporate practice of optometry and what does it prohibit?
By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
The legal doctrine called the “corporate practice of medicine or optometry” actually refers to the legal prohibition that prevents a doctor or an optometrist from working for a corporation (or other business entity) that is owned, operated or controlled by non-physicians or, in the case of optometrists, non-optometrists.
In the context of such laws, the term “non-physician” or “non-optometrist” almost always refers to one who is not licensed in the same state as the practice. Such prohibitions are entirely subject to each state’s laws. Some states have statutes that prohibit the corporate practice of a profession. Others have case law that has developed over the decades. So it depends on what state you are in whether or not the law prohibits the relationship.
The principle behind having such a prohibition is to prevent a business from controlling a medical or optometry practices. The idea is that decisions involving patient care should be made solely and completely in the best interest of the patient, based on the patient’s actual medical needs, by the physician providing the services. Fears are that business people or corporations might scrimp on supplies and equipment, purchase inferior grade products to use, or order unnecessary tests and procedures to increase income.
Florida has no corporate practice of medicine prohibition for medical doctors (MDs) or osteopathic physicians (DOs). However, it does have prohibitions that apply to optometrists, dentists and chiropractors. The optometry statute, Section 463.014, Florida Statutes, is similar to the ones for dentistry, Section 466.0285, Florida Statutes, and for chiropractors, Section 460.4167, Florida Statutes, perhaps being more similar to the latter. Although the optometry statute does not provide the strict consequences for violation that the latter two statutes above provide, nevertheless, it does prohibit the corporate practice of optometry, except if the corporation or business entity is owned and controlled by other licensed health professionals. The statutes prohibiting the corporate practice of dentistry and chiropractic, both make it a felony to violate the prohibition, a very serious matter.
Section 463.014(1)(a), Florida Statutes, does conclude with “Nothing in this section shall be deemed to prohibit the association of a licensed practitioner [meaning “optometrist”] with a multidisciplinary group of licensed health care professionals, the primary objective of which is the diagnosis and treatment of the human body.” To me, this language specifically authorizes an optometrist to “associate with” (meaning be employed by, contract with, form a partnership with, be a member with, be a shareholder with, etc.) a group or entity composed of other licensed health professionals (e.g., MDs, DOs, ARNPs, etc.). Therefore the optometrist could join with or be employed by any type of “group” of other licensed health professionals, whether that group is a P.A., Inc., LLC, etc.
Under Florida law, unless the licensed health professionals are the same profession (i.e., licensed by the same board) then they cannot form a “professional association” (a misnomer, actually it is a “professional service corporation” or “professional corporation” which the Florida Statutes allow to be shown by the abbreviation “P.A.;” see, Section 621.12(2), Florida Statute) nor a professional limited liability company (PLLC). See Section 621.03(2), Florida Statutes. So, for example, an MD could not legally form a P.A. (meaning a professional association or professional service corporation) with an advanced registered nurse practitioner (ARNP) as a shareholder (different professions). A chiropractor (DC) cannot legally be in a P.A. with a dentist (different professions).
However, I don’t believe there is any prohibition in Florida on licensed health professionals forming a non-professional service corporation (i.e., a “business corporation”) or other types of business entities, with other licensed health professionals. Except, of course, the prohibition that applies to optometrists, chiropractors and dentists, discussed above.
Despite the absence of teeth from the optometry statute, Section 463.014, Florida Statutes, I would never recommend to a client ignoring it. You risk having someone sue to have any contracts or arrangements made that violate it declared void and unenforceable. I have been involved in a number of these cases with medical doctors and with dentists.
Before entering into any business venture in Florida (or any state, for that matter) involving a medical business, dental practice, optometry practice, or chiropractic practice, be sure to consult with a board certified health lawyer or other experienced attorney knowledgeable in health law and corporate law. Be sure to conduct adequate due diligence to know and understand the entire business arrangement. Obtain a written opinion letter to advise you and protect you from the consequences of a poor decision.
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About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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