Walgreens Accused of Providing Insufficient COBRA Notices, Class Action Says

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

On November 30, 2022, a group of former Walgreens workers filed a proposed class action in Florida federal court that accuses the pharmacy chain of sending confusing, incomplete COBRA notices. The former employees sued, saying the company purposely sent former employees “haphazard and piece-meal” information about their rights to continued insurance coverage under the federal COBRA law to save itself money.

As a result, they lost access to their medical coverage when terminated and therefore had to pay out of pocket to cover medical expenses.

Details of the Class Action.

The plaintiffs filed the class action complaint against Walgreen Co. in the United States District Court Middle District of Florida Tampa Division, alleging violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).

They were all terminated from Walgreens between 2018 and 2020 for reasons not related to gross misconduct, they said in their complaint. After their termination, they received COBRA notices that needed to be written in a manner that an average plan participant could understand. However, rather than receiving one document outlining that information on COBRA, they received multiple separately mailed documents that lacked critical information, according to the complaint.

The first notice fails to include an address indicating where COBRA payments should be mailed. “It also fails to explain how to actually enroll in COBRA, nor does it bother including a physical election form,” the lawsuit alleges.

A second notice sent contains some but not all of the required information, the lawsuit states.

The insufficient COBRA notices confused and misled the plaintiffs and caused them economic injuries in the form of lost health insurance and informational injuries, they claim.

Similar Suits Against Walgreens.

Because similar lawsuits alleging deficient COBRA notices have been filed against Walgreens before, the pharmacy chain was aware that its notices were inconsistent with the Department of Labor’s model, alleged the workers. Therefore, they claim that its choice to use a non-compliant notice was in “deliberate or reckless disregard” to the workers’ rights.

The plaintiffs seek to represent a class of all Walgreens health care plan participants and beneficiaries who were sent similar COBRA notices during the applicable statute of limitations period and did not elect to continue coverage.

The plaintiffs seek reinstatement of their right to coverage, damages, fees, and costs. Click here to read the complaint.

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 pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists and any other healthcare provider. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers and acquisitions, and in complex litigation. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent pharmacists accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

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

 

Sources:

Edwards, Jesse. “Walgreens class action claims company fails to provide legal COBRA notices.” Top Class Actions. (December 5, 2022). Web.

Freedman, Emily. “Walgreens Provides Deficient COBRA Notices, Suit Says.” Law360. (December 1, 2022). Web.

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

Current Open Positions with The Health Law Firm. The Health Law Firm always seeks qualified individuals interested in health law. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. If you are a current member of The Florida Bar or a qualified professional who is interested, please forward a cover letter and resume to: PAlexander@TheHealthLawFirm.com or fax them to (407) 331-3030

“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 © 2022 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Mississippi Businessman Sentenced to 18 Years in Prison For $288 Million Tricare Fraud Scheme

George F. Indest III with 30+ years of experience, is Board Certified in Health LawBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On January 15, 2021, a Mississippi man was sentenced to 18 years in prison by a federal judge for his role in a $287.6 million scheme to defraud the Tricare health benefits program. According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), he committed fraud by paying doctors and drug distributors kickbacks.

What is Tricare?

Tricare is the health care benefit program serving active-duty military personnel, military retirees, and their dependents worldwide. The program provides comprehensive coverage to all beneficiaries, including health plans, special programs, prescriptions, and dental plans. Learn more about Tricare here.

Conspiracy to Commit Health Care Fraud and Money Laundering.

In July 2020, he pled guilty to orchestrating a $287.6 million scheme to defraud Tricare by paying doctors and drug distributors kickbacks. The kickbacks were in exchange for unnecessary compounded medication prescriptions sent to his pharmacies. He admitted to tampering with drug formulas and bribing doctors to authorize prescriptions to rake in reimbursements from the federal benefits program. Read the complaint in full.

More Details of the Fraud Scheme.

According to the government, from 2012 to 2016, he used marketing companies, drug distributors, and compounding pharmacies that he owned to contract with other pharmacies to provide prescriptions for the medications.

He admitted to creating prescription pads with the drug formulas for doctors to push the expensive drugs onto patients easily. In exchange for participating in the fraud, doctors got a cut of the pharmacy benefits managers and programs’ reimbursements.

Additionally, he and his co-conspirators conducted illegal wire transfers of millions of dollars in illegally obtained cash to various companies and bank accounts. The government said he personally obtained more than $40 million from the scheme.

As part of his plea agreement, he is ordered to forfeit more than $50 million worth of property, luxury cars, and an airplane. He was also ordered Friday by U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett of the Southern District of Mississippi to pay $287,659,569 in restitution. Click here to view the plea agreement.

To read about a similar Tricare fraud case in Florida, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Pharmacies and Pharmacists.

The Health Law Firm represents pharmacists, pharmacies, doctors, and medical groups in DEA, DOH, FDA, OIG, and DOJ investigations, qui tam and whistleblower cases, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, administrative hearings, inspections, and audits. The Firm also represents both plaintiffs (whistleblowers or relators) and defendants in False Claims Act (whistleblower or qui tam) cases. The firm’s attorneys include those who are board-certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

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

Sources:

Clough, Craig. “Miss. Businessman Gets 18 Years For $288M Tricare Fraud.” Law360. (January 15, 2021). Web.

Stawicki, Kevin. “Miss. Businessman Pleads Guilty To $288M Tricare Fraud.” Law360. (July 10, 2020). Web.

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 Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or toll-free: (888) 331-6620.

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

 

Florida’s Prescription Drug Importation Plan Continues to Gain Support

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

On March 12, 2019, the Florida House of Representatives’ Health Quality Subcommittee voted 15 to 2 to approve House Bill 19 (HB 19) that would implement one of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recently announced health care proposals. In February 2019, the new Florida governor, who was criticized for not having a health care platform while he campaigned, announced the proposal that Florida start importing drugs from Canada.

HB 19 -Prescription Drug Importation Programs.

HB 19 was created for the purpose of safely importing cost-effective prescription drugs from Canada and other foreign nations under specified conditions. The proposed program would go into effect on July 1, 2019.

HB 19 provides eligibility criteria for prescription drugs and program participants; provides distribution requirements; provides annual reporting requirements; provides application and permitting requirements for certain participating entities; and provides that implementation of International Prescription Drug Importation Program is contingent on federal arrangement or obtaining federal guidance. Click here for more information on HB 19.

Two Programs, One Goal – Lowering Prescription Drug Prices.

The program will offer access to FDA-approved prescription drugs imported from Canada, allowing the drugs to be sold to Floridians at a much lower cost than they could otherwise purchase them here. “One of the biggest drivers of this country’s out of control healthcare spending is the cost of prescription drugs,” said Governor DeSantis.

According to the bill, the U.S. spends 30 to 190% more than other developed countries on prescription drugs, and up to 174% more for the exact same for prescription drugs. The proposed bill aims to lower these unnecessary high costs by establishing two different drug importation programs.

The first program would allow the state to import prescription drugs from Canada for use by the Florida Medicaid Program and prison health care system. It would be known as the Canadian Drug Importation Program. It would be run by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA).

The second program would be known as the International Drug Importation Program. It would be run by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and would be available to individual residents.

Despite gaining house support, both programs would still need approval from the federal government before they could be implemented in Florida.

To learn more about Gov. DeSantis’ proposal, click here to read his press release.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Pharmacies and Pharmacists.

The Health Law Firm represents pharmacists and pharmacies in DEA, DOH and FDA investigations, qui tam and whistleblower cases, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, administrative hearings, inspections and audits. The firm’s attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

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

Sources:

Sexton, Christine. “DeSantis prescription drug savings plan gets early House support.” Orlando Sentinel. (March 12, 2019). Web.

News Service of Florida. “DeSantis Drug Importation Plan Wins House Support.” Sunshine State News. (March 13, 2019). Web.

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

KeyWords: Legal representation for pharmacies, representation of health care professionals, health law defense attorney, doctor attorney, nurse attorney, Legal Defense for Pharmacists, pharmacy defense attorney, representation for pharmacists, representation for pharmacies, Department of Health defense attorney, DOH investigation representation, quality assurance representation, DEA investigation, DEA attorney, DEA representation, prescription E-FORSCE representation, DEA defense lawyer, representation for overprescribing, Medicare investigation lawyer, representation for Medicaid investigation, representation for health care professionals, license defense lawyer, licensure representation, board representation attorney, representation for board investigations, whistleblower representation, qui tam representation, whistleblower attorney, whistleblower defense attorney, qui tam attorney, qui tam defense lawyer, representation for license defense, licensure defense attorney, protecting your professional license, Florida opioid crisis, Florida’s ongoing lawsuit for opioid crisis The Health Law Firm, Florida health law attorney, The Health Law Firm reviews, reviews of The Health Law Firm attorneys

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2019 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Florida Governor’s Prescription Foreign Drug Importation Plan Gains House Support

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

On March 12, 2019, the Florida House of Representatives’ Health Quality Subcommittee voted 15 to 2 to approve House Bill 19 (HB 19) that would implement one of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recently announced health care proposals. In February 2019, the new Florida governor, who was criticized for not having a health care platform while he campaigned, announced the proposal that Florida start importing drugs from Canada.

HB 19 -Prescription Drug Importation Programs.

HB 19 was created for the purpose of safely importing cost-effective prescription drugs from Canada and other foreign nations under specified conditions. The proposed program would go into effect on July 1, 2019.

HB 19 provides eligibility criteria for prescription drugs and program participants; provides distribution requirements; provides annual reporting requirements; provides application and permitting requirements for certain participating entities; and provides that implementation of International Prescription Drug Importation Program is contingent on federal arrangement or obtaining federal guidance. Click here for more information on HB 19.

Two Programs, One Goal – Lowering Prescription Drug Prices.

The program will offer access to FDA-approved prescription drugs imported from Canada, allowing the drugs to be sold to Floridians at a much lower cost than they could otherwise purchase them here. “One of the biggest drivers of this country’s out of control healthcare spending is the cost of prescription drugs,” said Governor DeSantis.

According to the bill, the U.S. spends 30 to 190% more than other developed countries on prescription drugs, and up to 174% more for the exact same for prescription drugs. The proposed bill aims to lower these unnecessary high costs by establishing two different drug importation programs.

The first program would allow the state to import prescription drugs from Canada for use by the Florida Medicaid Program and prison health care system. It would be known as the Canadian Drug Importation Program. It would be run by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA).

The second program would be known as the International Drug Importation Program. It would be run by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and would be available to individual residents.

Despite gaining house support, both programs would still need approval from the federal government before they could be implemented in Florida.

To learn more about Gov. DeSantis’ proposal, click here to read his press release.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Pharmacies and Pharmacists.

The Health Law Firm represents pharmacists and pharmacies in DEA, DOH and FDA investigations, qui tam and whistleblower cases, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, administrative hearings, inspections and audits. The firm’s attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

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

Sources:

Sexton, Christine. “DeSantis prescription drug savings plan gets early House support.” Orlando Sentinel. (March 12, 2019). Web.

News Service of Florida. “DeSantis Drug Importation Plan Wins House Support.” Sunshine State News. (March 13, 2019). Web.

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

KeyWords: Legal representation for pharmacies, representation of health care professionals, health law defense attorney, doctor attorney, nurse attorney, Legal Defense for Pharmacists, pharmacy defense attorney, representation for pharmacists, representation for pharmacies, Department of Health defense attorney, DOH investigation representation, quality assurance representation, DEA investigation, DEA attorney, DEA representation, prescription E-FORSCE representation, DEA defense lawyer, representation for overprescribing, Medicare investigation lawyer, representation for Medicaid investigation, representation for health care professionals, license defense lawyer, licensure representation, board representation attorney, representation for board investigations, whistleblower representation, qui tam representation, whistleblower attorney, whistleblower defense attorney, qui tam attorney, qui tam defense lawyer, representation for license defense, licensure defense attorney, protecting your professional license, Florida opioid crisis, Florida’s ongoing lawsuit for opioid crisis The Health Law Firm, Florida health law attorney, The Health Law Firm reviews, reviews of The Health Law Firm attorneys

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2019 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Florida Sues Walgreens, CVS For Alleged Role in Helping Create and Increase Opioid Crisis

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

On November 19, 2018, the state of Florida announced that it is suing pharmacy chains Walgreens and CVS over their role in what it calls “unconscionable efforts to increase and expand the ongoing opioid crisis in Florida.” State Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office announced that it added the two companies to a lawsuit filed in May 2018, against opioid distributors and manufacturers.

The Supply and Demand Problem with Opioids.

The state alleges that the two chains are responsible for overselling addictive opioids, as well as not taking precautionary measures to stop illegal sales, helping to inflate the supply and demand. The companies join Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, as well as several other opioid distributors, as defendants in the lawsuit.

In a news release, Bondi noted that the companies failed to stop “suspicious orders of opioids” and “dispensed unreasonable quantities of opioids from their pharmacies.” Click here to read the press release.

As the Opioid Crisis Continues, So Do the DEA Investigations.

Both companies have previously paid to resolve Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) allegations and have shelled out millions to settle allegations involving stores in Florida. In 2018, Walgreens agreed to pay $80 million to resolve a DEA investigation into inadequate record keeping and diversion related to opioids, according to the suit. Likewise, CVS agreed to pay $22 million in 2015 to resolve DEA allegations that its pharmacists were filling fake prescriptions for opioids and other drugs. Click here to read the amended complaint in full.

In the last decade, law enforcement has cracked down on opioid prescriptions and pill mill operations. Florida ‘s lawsuit comes at a time when more than 1,000 state and local governments across the U.S. are pursuing civil cases against opioid-makers and distributors.

Click here to read one of my prior blogs on this topic.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Pharmacies and Pharmacists.

The Health Law Firm represents pharmacists and pharmacies in DEA, DOH and FDA investigations, qui tam and whistleblower cases, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, administrative hearings, inspections and audits. The firm’s attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

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

Sources:

Sullivan, Emily. “Florida Sues Walgreens, CVS For Alleged Role In Opioid Crisis.” NPR. (November 19, 2018). Web.

Peters, Xander. “Florida files lawsuit against Walgreens, CVS for allegedly ‘playing a role’ in opioid crisis.” Orlando Weekly. (November 19, 2018). Web.

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

KeyWords: Legal representation for pharmacies, representation of health care professionals, health law defense attorney, doctor attorney, nurse attorney, Legal Defense for Pharmacists, pharmacy defense attorney, representation for pharmacists, representation for pharmacies, Department of Health defense attorney, DOH investigation representation, quality assurance representation, DEA investigation, DEA attorney, DEA representation, prescription E-FORSCE representation, DEA defense lawyer, representation for overprescribing, Medicare investigation lawyer, representation for Medicaid investigation, representation for health care professionals, license defense lawyer, licensure representation, board representation attorney, representation for board investigations, whistleblower representation, qui tam representation, whistleblower attorney, whistleblower defense attorney, qui tam attorney, qui tam defense lawyer, representation for license defense, licensure defense attorney, protecting your professional license, Florida opioid crisis,  Florida’s ongoing lawsuit for opioid crisis The Health Law Firm, Florida health law attorney, The Health Law Firm reviews, reviews of The Health Law Firm attorneys

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2018 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Blocks Shipping of Controlled Substances at Walgreens Distribution Center in Florida

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

On September 14, 2012, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) blocked the Walgreens distribution center in Jupiter, Florida, from shipping oxycodone and other controlled drugs to its pharmacies in Florida and the East Coast with an immediate suspension order, according to the DEA. In the press release, the DEA called the Walgreens distribution facility an “imminent danger” to the public.

To see the entire press release from the DEA, click here.

Back in April 2012, the DEA served an administrative inspection warrant at the same facility, as well as its six top retail Walgreens pharmacies in Florida. To see my blog post on that story, click here.

DEA Suspension Order Only Stops the Distribution of Controlled Substances.

The DEA said the Jupiter distribution center has been “the single largest distributor of oxycodone products in Florida” since 2009. The DEA issued the suspension order because it believes Walgreens failed to maintain proper controls to ensure its retailers didn’t dispense drugs to addicts and drug dealers.

The order only applies to the Jupiter distribution center and only suspends the distribution of controlled substances.

Whether or not bath salts fall into this category is unclear. The Florida Legislature recently banned the sale of bath salts and 90 other substances to help stop the big face-eating zombie outbreak in Florida. See my blog on bath salts and the zombie outbreak in Florida.

Recently, the DEA revoked the controlled substance licenses from two CVS pharmacies in Sanford, Florida. The two stores are accused of dispensing an inappropriate number of prescriptions for oxycodone and had a suspicious number of sales of other controlled substances. There is a blog on this story on our website, click here to read it.

Millions of Oxycodone Pills Purchased by Walgreens Stores.

According to a USA Today article, six of Walgreens’ Florida pharmacies allegedly ordered more than a million oxycodone pills a year. One pharmacy in Oviedo, Florida, went from ordering more than 80,000 oxycodone pills in 2009, to nearly 1.7 million in 2011.

Click here to read the USA Today article
.

Continued War on Prescription Drug Abuse.

According to the DEA, this is an effort to curb Florida’s prescription drug epidemic. Special Agent Mark Trouville, with the DEA’s Miami Division, said all DEA licensees “have an obligation to ensure that medications are getting into the hands of legitimate patients. When they choose to look the other way, patients suffer and drug dealers prosper.”

Neither Agent Trouville nor the DEA was, apparently, requested to comment on the bath salts ban and its effect on the zombie outbreak, however.

Oxycodone Numbers Published for Shock Value.

I really do not see why the public or our elected representatives are shocked and awed by the meaningless numbers and statistics used in connection with these matters. The fact that Walgreens, the biggest pharmacy retailer in Florida, might distribute over a million oxycodone pills in a year, is a meaningless statistic by itself. If a doctor prescribes a pain management patient a prescription for three (3) pills a day, that is approximately 90 pills per month or 1,080 pills per year. If Walgreens has only 1,000 patients with such a prescription in a year throughout the entire state of Florida, that is in excess of one million (1,000,000) pills per year. I would venture to guess that many single Walgreens retail stores have more than 1,000 customers per day, much less all Walgreens stores throughout Florida.

My point is that any such statistics are meaningless out of context and are only meant to sound huge of one doesn’t stop and think about it.

Another concern is that many, if not the vast majority of the Walgreens customers who now will not be able to get their prescriptions filled, are legitimate pain management patients with legitimate prescriptions written by legitimate physicians.

Where Do Legitimate Chronic-Pain Patients Turn?

I am constantly being contacted by patients who are in dire straits, suffering because they cannot locate a pharmacy to fill their legitimate pain medicine prescriptions. These include injured military veterans, patients who are 100% disabled and on disability or social security, patients injured in automobile accidents and job-related accidents (whose medications are paid for by insurance, if they can find a pharmacy to fill it) and others with real chronic pain issues.

If the largest legitimate chains of pharmacies in the state and nation are not allowed to fill these prescriptions, where will these suffering patients turn? Are these actions driving our citizens into the hands of shady independent pharmacies that have fewer safeguards and less accountability? Are these actions driving our citizens to seek out illegal drug dealers and turn to illegal drugs to cope with their legitimate medical problems? I hope not.

Thank you. I will get off my soapbox now.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Pharmacies and Pharmacists.

The Health Law Firm represents pharmacists and pharmacies in DEA investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, administrative hearings, inspections and audits. The firm’s attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

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

Sources:

Leinwand, Donna. “DEA Inspects Walgreens for Oxycodone Probe.” USA Today. (September 15, 2012). From: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012/09/14/walgreens-and-oxycodone/57782912/1

Pavuk, Amy. “DEA Blocks Controlled-Substance Distribution at Florida Walgreens Facility.” Orlando Sentinel. (September 14, 2012). From: http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-09-14/news/os-walgreens-dea-suspension-20120914_1_distribution-center-dea-miami-field-division

DEA. “DEA Serves a Suspension Order on Walgreens Distribution Center in Jupiter, Florida.” DEA.gov. (September 14, 2012). From: http://www.justice.gov/dea/divisions/mia/2012/mia091412.shtml

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. He does not own stock in Walgreens or any other pharmacy.

“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.

Doctor Sentenced to Almost 27 Years in Prison for Pill Mill Charges

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

A doctor was sentenced to almost 27 years in prison on July 24, 2013, according to the Sun Sentinel. The former doctor, Sergio Rodriguez, had worked as a pediatrician at Children Plus Health Center near Palm Beach County, Florida. He was charged with operating a pill mill out of his office. He pleaded guilty to four counts of manslaughter, four counts of conspiracy to traffic oxycodone, one count of racketeering and one count of money laundering.

Click here to read the entire Sun Sentinel article.

Doctor Prescribed Pain Pills to Undercover Detectives.

Dr. Rodriguez is accused of illegally prescribing pain killers out of his office. He was initially arrested in 2008. Investigators claim the doctor did not have the proper training to prescribe the pain medications, but did so anyway. According to the Sun Sentinel, the doctor would prescribe oxycodone, methadone and xanax to patients, including undercover detectives, without an examination.

A Palm Beach, Florida, judge approved a plea agreement for Dr. Rodriguez. Under the agreement, the doctor reportedly admitted responsibility for the deaths of four people in early 2008. According to court documents, Dr. Rodriguez relinquished his license to practice medicine in the state of Florida in 2009.

Click here to read the administrative complaint against Dr. Rodriguez.

Civil Forfeiture of Property and Money: A New Weapon in the Government’s Arsenal Against Health Fraud and Pill Mills.

Dr. Rodriguez was also ordered to pay $200,000 in fines, and court costs. He will also be responsible for forfeiting $87,000, according to the Sun Sentinel.

Recently we have seen government prosecutors and agencies, including the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), the U.S. Attorney General’s (AG) Office, and local sheriff and police departments use the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act against health professionals and health facilities in health-related cases. A prompt, aggressive defense to these actions may often recover the property or funds seized and, more importantly, a good defense can be used to help resolve any pending criminal charges. To read more on the forfeiture of property and money, click here to read a previous blog.

Legal Tips for Physicians to Manage Pain Patients.

Doctors, pharmacists and all healthcare professionals who are involved in schemes relating to overprescribing or trafficking in narcotics may be targeted by many different agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA will often use undercover agents and informants to pose as patients, wired for audio recording. The DEA will often work with local law enforcement authorities and the Department of Health (DOH). Other investigations and arrests may be initiated by a statewide prosecutor’s office, which is under the AG. Still others have been initiated by the MFCU where Medicaid funds are used.

To avoid any legal actions altogether, we advise our physician clients to follow a simple list of suggestions in order to protect themselves from drug-seeking patients. Click here to see an article on our website with tips on how to help manage pain patients.

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

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

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

Comments?

What do you think of Dr. Rodriguez’s sentence? As a health care professional, how do you manage pain patients? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Freeman, Marc. “Former Doctor Sentenced to 27 Years for Overdose Deaths.” Sun Sentinel. (July 25, 2013). From: http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2013-07-25/news/fl-doctor-overdose-deaths-plea-deal-20130725_1_sergio-rodriguez-former-doctor-children-plus-health-center

Muczyner, Michael. “Lake Worth Pediatrician Sentenced to Prison for Pill Mill Charges.” CBS 12 News. (July 25, 2013). From: http://cbs12.com/news/top-stories/stories/vid_9076.shtml

Department of Health v. Sergio Rodriguez, M.D. Case Number 2008-20504. Final Order. January 7, 2011. From: http://ww2.doh.state.fl.us/DocServiceMngr/displayDocument.aspx

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.

Florida Physicians Allowed to “Recommend” But Not “Prescribe” Medical Marijuana for Patients

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

Under the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, Florida patients suffering from cancer or a physical medical condition that produces chronic symptoms of seizures or severe and persistent muscles spasms can qualify for the use of low-THC cannabis.

To read the full legislative language of the Florida compassionate-use act, click here.

Florida has been preparing physicians to qualify patients for the use of medical marijuana for nearly a year. So far, only 42 doctors have completed the process for the medical marijuana program, which consists of passing an eight-hour continuing education course and a subsequent examination.

However, after all other alternative treatment options have proven to be unsuccessful, even registered physicians will not be prescribing the drug low in the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and high in cannabidiol (CBD) to patients qualified for its use. This is because prescribing marijuana in any form, even low-THC cannabis, is against federal law. Therefore, the way Florida law is written, qualified physicians may “recommend” or write a “recommendation” for medical marijuana for a patient.

Prescribing Medical Marijuana is a Violation of the Federal Controlled Substances Act.

In order to prescribe controlled substances, physicians must first register with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The DEA categorizes each controlled substance by potency, potential for abuse and accepted safety or medical use with schedules utilizing roman numerals.

Medical marijuana (even low-THC cannabis) is categorized as a Schedule I drug, meaning it currently has no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, it has no accepted safety for use under medical supervision and it possesses a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are illegal to prescribe, even by physicians registered with the DEA.

For more information on prescribing controlled substances from the American Nurses Association, click here.

How Will Qualified Patients Receive Medical Marijuana for Treatment?

While physicians are barred from prescribing low-THC cannabis, despite the compassionate-use act that became effective on January 1, 2015, physicians registered in the program will instead be providing qualified patients with”physician certifications.” A physician certification for a qualifying patient is basically a written document signed by a physician.

The document must profess the physician has examined the patient and currently maintains a treatment plan for the patient, and in the physician’s professional opinion such patient suffers from a “debilitating medical condition,” as specified by Florida law. Furthermore, the physician must assert that all other alternative treatment options have been unsuccessful in relieving symptoms associated with the patient’s illness.

Other conditions apply for qualifying patients and for physician ordering of medical marijuana. For more information on additional requirements, click here to refer to Section 381.986, Florida Statutes.

Will Physicians Face Federal Prosecution for Providing Qualified Patients with Medical Marijuana?

In a press release issued by the Department of Justice in October of 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced formal guidelines for federal prosecutors in states that possess laws authorizing the use of medical marijuana. Attorney General Holder emphasized that the focus of federal resources should not be on the individuals acting in compliance with state laws. However, prosecution will continue for those individuals claiming to comply with state laws but acting against the terms, conditions and purposes of those laws.

To read the full press release by the Department of Justice dated October 19, 2009, click here.

In a memorandum issued by Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden, dated October 19, 2009 and referenced by Attorney General Holder, the Deputy Attorney General states in pertinent part:

“The Department of Justice is committed to the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act in all States. Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug, and the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime…The prosecution of significant traffickers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, and the disruption of illegal drug manufacturing and trafficking networks continues to be a core priority…As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”

To read the full memorandum for more information on what constitutes “clear and unambiguous compliance,” click here.

To read a more recent memorandum of Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, stressing the importance of strong regulatory and enforcement systems in states where medical marijuana is legal, click here.

Finally, to read the DEA’s Position Paper on Marijuana, click here.

Comments?

Are you signing up as a physician authorized to order medical marijuana for qualified patients in the state of Florida? If no, is it because you are concerned about possible federal prosecution?

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys for Medical Marijuana Concerns.

The Health Law Firm attorneys can assist health care providers and facilities, such as doctors, pharmacists and pharmacies, wanting to participate in the medical marijuana industry. We can properly draft and complete the applications for registration, permitting and/or licensing, while complying with Florida law. We can also represent doctors, pharmacies and pharmacists facing proceedings brought by state regulators or agencies.

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

Sources:

Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs. “Attorney General Announces Formal Medical Marijuana Guidelines.” Press release. 19 Oct. 2009. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

Powers, Scott. “Marijuana Program Draws 42 Doctors Statewide.” Health. Orlando Sentinel: 19 Aug. 2015. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.

Sherman, Amy and Gillin, Joshua. “PolitiFact Florida: Will Doctors Write Prescriptions for Medical Marijuana if You Have an Itchy Back?” PolitiFact Florida. Tampa Bay Times: 23 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.

Wright, Esq., Brian K. “The Regulatory Impact of Medical Marijuana on Health Care Providers and Other Stakeholders.” PowerPoint presentation. Web. 13 Oct. 2015.

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.

Keywords: Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, Florida medical marijuana, low-THC cannabis in Florida, medical marijuana, medical marijuana lawyer, qualifying patients for medical marijuana, medical marijuana defense attorney, defense lawyer, health lawyer, health law attorney, physician certifications for medical marijuana, cannabis for treatment of debilitating medical condition, medical marijuana ordering physician, medical marijuana federal prosecution defense attorney, prescribing controlled substances, DEA defense lawyer, guidelines for federal prosecutors, compassionate-use in Florida, Drug Enforcement Agency physician registration, The Health Law Firm

“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 © 2017 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Federal Judge Challenges the Justice Department’s Interpretation of Federal Law Restricting Medical Marijuana Prosecutions

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

In a federal case involving a California-based medical marijuana dispensary and the United States, regarding a motion to dissolve a permanent injunction, a federal judge challenged the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) so-called “tortured” interpretation of the law.  U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer pronounced that the DOJ’s interpretation is “at odds with fundamental notions of the rule of law.”  Judge Breyer went so far as to say that the DOJ’s analysis of the plain language Amendment was “counterintuitive and opportunistic.”

At issue in this case is a law passed last year by Congress which purposes to restrain the Justice Department’s efforts to prevent the implementation and use of medical marijuana in states where it has been legalized.  The applicable portion of the federal law in dispute is Section 538 of the 2015 Appropriations Act (otherwise known as the “Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment”).  The Amendment states that the DOJ is barred from using federal funds to “prevent such States [where medical cannabis has been legalized] from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

The federal court decision found that the DOJ incorrectly interpreted the federal law to mean that it cannot prosecute the state itself for implementing mandates authorizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes but that it could still prosecute individuals and businesses carrying out state mandates or operating within state law.

To read the order of the court regarding briefing and hearing in United States of America v. Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana and Lynette Shaw, click here.

DOJ Issues “Cole Memo” to Clarify.

Former Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote a memo to all U.S. attorneys stating that the DOJ would exercise prosecutorial discretion and not pursue marijuana cases in those states where it is legal relying upon:

“[an] expectation that states and local governments that have enacted laws authorizing marijuana-related conduct will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health, and other law enforcement interests.”

This has now come to be known as the “Cole memo.”  Click here to read the Cole memo in its entirety.

Facts of the Federal Court Case.

Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (“Marin Alliance”) based in Fairfax, California, closed its doors in late 2011, folding under pressure from the federal government, even though it was operating legally according to California law.  It was known as the state’s oldest marijuana dispensary.  It first opened its doors in November 1996, when California legalized medical marijuana.

Marin Alliance was initially targeted by the DOJ due to its close proximity to Bolinas Park.  According to federal law, medical marijuana dispensaries cannot be within 1,000 feet of a park or school, to deter the sale of cannabis to minors.  Owner and director, Lynette Shaw, who is herself a recipient of medical marijuana, maintains she was always cognizant of and in compliance with state laws.

A Favorable Ruling for Medical Marijuana Advocates.

Although medical marijuana dispensaries and users had consistently lost in federal court despite the support of local law, the Amendment codified as section 538 of the federal funding bill last year was the persuading factor for a victory for Marin Alliance.  U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer challenged the DOJ’s interpretation of Section 538 of the 2015 Appropriations Act, asserting that the DOJ’s stance “so tortured the plain meaning of the statute.” Judge Breyer further stated “it defies language and logic for the Government to argue that it does not ‘prevent’ California from ‘implementing’ its medical marijuana laws by shutting down these same heavily-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries.”

To read the full order of the court in this case, click here.

The Need for Congruence Between State and Federal Law.

Despite its growing acceptance as a medicinal treatment in 23 states across the nation (and four states legalizing its use for recreational purposes as well), marijuana has yet to be removed from the federal list of restricted drugs.  The looming threat of prosecution by the DEA for using or dispensing medical marijuana, even within compliance of state law, is enough to deter many from seeking its benefits for patients.

Click here to read one of our previous blog posts regarding federal prosecution for medical marijuana treatment.

Comments?

Do you agree with the U.S. District Judge’s ruling?  Why or why not?

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys for Medical Marijuana Concerns.

The Health Law Firm attorneys can assist health care providers and facilities, such as doctors, pharmacists and pharmacies, wanting to participate in the medical marijuana industry. We can properly draft and complete the applications for registration, permitting and/or licensing, while complying with Florida law. We can also represent doctors, pharmacies and pharmacists facing proceedings brought by state regulators or agencies.

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

Sources:

Adler, Jonathan H.  “Court Rules Federal Government May Not Spend Money to Enforce Drug Laws Against Marijuana Dispensaries Legal Under State Law.”  The Washington Post.  20 Oct. 2015.  Web.  9 Nov. 2015.

Ingraham, Christopher.  “Federal Court Tells the DEA to Stop Harassing Medical Marijuana Providers.”  The Washington Post.  20 Oct. 2015.  Web.  9 Nov. 2015.

Phelps, Timothy M.  “Ruling Reins in Justice Department on Medical Pot.”  Orlando Sentinel: A22.  8 Nov. 2015.  Print.  9 Nov. 2015.

Schwartz, Carly.  “Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, California’s Oldest Pot Club, Closes.”  San Francisco.  Huff Post: 22 Dec. 2011.  Web. 9 Nov. 2015.

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.


Keywords:
2015 Appropriations Act, Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, medical marijuana, cannabis for medicinal treatment, medical marijuana lawyer, medical marijuana defense attorney, defense lawyer, health lawyer, health law attorney, cannabis for treatment of debilitating medical condition, medical marijuana ordering physician, medical marijuana federal prosecution defense attorney, prescribing controlled substances, DEA defense lawyer, guidelines for federal prosecutors, compassionate-use in Florida, Drug Enforcement Agency physician registration, The Health Law Firm, medical marijuana dispensaries, medical marijuana compliance lawyer, medical marijuana legalization, Section 538 of federal funding bill

“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 © 2017 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Walgreens Files a Petition to Lift the Immediate Suspension Order

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

There’s a firefight brewing between Walgreens and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). On October 10, 2012, Walgreens filed a petition asking a federal judge to lift the Immediate Suspension Order (ISO) that bans its distribution center in Jupiter, Florida, from shipping controlled substances to its stores in Florida and on the East Coast.

Back on September 14, 2012, the DEA issued an ISO on the distribution center, calling it an “imminent danger” to the public. Click here to read a blog I previously wrote when the DEA issued the ISO.

Walgreens Claims the DEA Ignored Relevant Information.

In its petition, Walgreens claims the DEA ignored and “conspicuously omitted” recent and relevant information in its ISO. The pharmacy said it took voluntary steps designed to address concerns about the number of new prescriptions for controlled substances presented by pain clinic patients. Earlier this year the company also voluntarily stopped selling all Schedule II drugs, including OxyContin, at eight pharmacies that were of concern to the DEA and that were serviced by the Jupiter distribution center. Walgreens claims as a result of these efforts, the number of oxycodone pills and pain clinic prescriptions filled in recent months is an extremely small percent of the 2011 numbers, on which DEA relied upon to issue the ISO.

Walgreens is asking the federal appeals court to clear the ISO against the distribution center.

To see the Orlando Sentinel article, click here.

 

Numbers Released for Mean Nothing.

In an earlier blog I wrote that according to the DEA, six of Walgreens’ Florida pharmacies allegedly ordered more than a million oxycodone pills a year. That number might seem big at first, but after breaking it down, it’s actually not all that scary. You have to remember that Walgreens is the biggest pharmacy retailer in Florida.

For example, if a doctor issues a pain management patient a prescription for three (3) pills a day, that is approximately 90 pills per month or 1,080 pills per year. If Walgreens has only 1,000 patients with such a prescription in a year throughout the entire state of Florida, that is in excess of one million (1,000,000) pills per year. I would guess that many single Walgreens retail stores have more than 1,000 customers per day, much less all Walgreens stores throughout Florida.

My point is that such statistics are meaningless out of context and are only meant to sound huge if one doesn’t stop and think about it.

Click here to see the press release from the DEA with the number of oxycodone pills purchased by store.

 

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Pharmacies and Pharmacists.

The Health Law Firm represents pharmacists and pharmacies in DEA investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, administrative hearings, inspections and audits. The firm’s attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

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 the appeal? Should the DEA have taken this action against Walgreens? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

 

Source:

Pavul, Amy. “Walgreens Fights Back Against DEA, Wants Ban at Florida Distribution Center Lifted.” Orlando Sentinel. (October 11, 2012). From: ttp://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-walgreens-dea-oxycodone-20121011,0,1860346.story

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. He does not own stock in Walgreens or any other pharmacy.

 

“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.

Go to Top