Doctor or Nurse, Please, Please, Please: Talk to an Attorney Before You Talk to an Investigator

Despite mailing out hundreds of thousands of postcards and letters to physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, and psychologists  throughout Florida, we continue to receive calls from new clients and from potential clients, after they have already spoken to and made critical harmful admissions against their own interests to investigators.  In Florida, you do not have any duty to cooperate with any investigator who is investigating you.  This extends to Department of Health (DOH) investigators (who are sometimes titled “Medical Quality Assurance Investigators” or “Medical Malpractice Investigators“), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agents, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, or criminal investigators of any type.

Let me state this as succinctly and clearly as possible.  If you are being investigated, you will not be better off making a statement.  You will not be better off explaining your side of the story.  The investigator is not your friend.  The investigator is not on your side.  All you are doing is falling for a trick and helping the government to make a case against you.

You have a right under the U.S. Constitution to not make any statement that may be used against you.  This is so important that in criminal cases government investigators are required to advise you of this by reciting to you your Miranda rights.

However, in cases where you might have your medical license revoked or have your nursing license revoked or have your DEA number revoked or lose your Medicare provider status or your Medicaid provider status, the investigator is not required to advise you of your rights.

In a criminal case, there may be ways to have your statement thrown out.  However, in a professional licensing case or other administrative case, it may be too late to avoid the damage.  You may be the best witness the government has and you may be the only witness the government needs to prove ths case against you.

In the case where you could receive a $100 criminal fine, the investigators are required to read you your constitutional Miranda rights and to be sure that you understand them before you make a statement.  However, in a case where you can lose your professional license, where you could lose your livelihood and ability to make a living, where you could lose everything you have worked so hard to obtain, they are not required to do this.  You must protect yourself.

Many health professionals, when confronted by an investigator, who will usually call at a very inconvenient time (to catch you by surprise) and will usually flash a badge (to intimidate you), will refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the matter and will fall for the bait to “tell their side of the story.”  This can be fatal to your defense and fatal to your license.

In the absence of a statement by the suspect (in this case, let’s assume this is YOU), the government may have a very difficult time of proving that you have committed any offense.  It may have other witnesses (who may not be around at the time of any hearing or trial).  It may have a lot of physical evidence or documents.  But it may be impossible for the government investigators to make any link between you and the evidence, unless you help the investigators do this.  You would be surprised at how many health professionals believe that they can just talk their way out of the situation;  in reality, they are just giving evidence that is used to make the case against them.

Any evidence at all, just admitting that you were there, admitting that the documents are yours, admitting that the patient was yours, admitting that you worked at the clinic, admitting that you wrote the prescription, admitting that the property is yours, admitting that you were on duty at the time, admitting that you have taken a drug, admitting that you signed the form, can be a crucial piece of evidence that could not otherwise be proven without your own testimony.

Remember, this is the investigators’ job and profession.  This is what they do full time, every day.  And they are very good at it.  They are 1,000 times better at getting you to admit the crucial elements of a disciplinary infraction than you are in “talking your way out of it.”  They will not be convinced by any excuses you make.  They do not have to be. They will not be the ones making the final decision against you.  Theirs is the job of putting together the case against you.  You will help them by talking to them, explaining why your decisions are correct, explaining why what you did is excusable, etc.  It will not work.  You will merely be giving them enough rope to hang you with.

Hint: If it is a Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) special agent (investigator), you are probably under investigation for Medicaid fraud.

Hint: If it is an “auditor,” “surveyor” or “investigator” from an agency or company with “integrity” or “program integrity” in its name, they are probably investigating you for “lack of integrity,” i.e., false claims or fraud.

Hint: If it is a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent (investigator) they are probably investigating you to prosecute you or to revoke your DEA registration for drug or prescribing violations.

Hint: If it is an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) special agent (investigator), you are probably under investigation for Medicare fraud or Medicare false claims.

Hint: If it is a Department of Health Quality Assurance Investigator or Medical Malpractice Investigator, they are probably only investigating possible disciplinary action against your license that could result in large administrative fines or revocation of your license.

Do not believe for a second that you are smarter than the investigator.  Do not believe for a second that you will convince the investigator (or anyone else) that there is a legal or medical justification for what you did or what they allege.  If it were as simple as that, then why would there be an investigation and why would you be the one being investigated?

Additionally, do not believe for a second that you can lie your way out of it, either.  Remember, if the government cannot prove the basic offense that it is investigating against you, it may be able to prove that you have committed perjury or lied to an investigator.  In the case of a federal official or a federal investigation, merely making a false statement (oral or written) to an investigator is a criminal act.  This is what Martha Stewart and many others have served time for in federal prisons.

These investigators are lied to all the time.  They are usually better at detecting lies than a polygraph expert is.  Furthermore, in most cases, you will be the very last person to be interviewed.  Therefore, they will already know just about everything that can be used against you.  If your statement contradicts in any way what others have told them, they will know you are the one who is lying.  However, knowing something or suspecting something does not mean it will be something that can be proven in court or in an administrative hearing.

It is much better to make no statement at all.  Blame it on your attorney.  Tell the investigator that your attorney will kill you if you were to talk to the investigator without your attorney being there ahead of time.  “Speak to my attorney.”  “My attorney can help you, I can’t.”

All you have to do is state “I must talk to my lawyer before I say anything.”  “I will have my lawyer contact you.”  “I cannot say anything until I talk to my lawyer.”  “I want a lawyer.”

If you are not the one being investigated, then there is no good reason why the investigator would want you to make a statement before you consulted with your attorney.  What is the rush?

Then you must also avoid the old trick of the investigator telling you “If you don’t have anything to hide, why would you need a lawyer?”  Please don’t fall for this trick, either.  This is America.  Smart people and rich people spend a lot of money on attorneys and other professionals to represent them and advise them.  There is a good reason why they do this.

Far too often the health professional only calls us after he has given a statement.  This is usually too late to avoid much of the damage that will have been be caused.

Everything above applies to oral statements or written statements.  Do not make either.  Contact a lawyer as soon as possible, preferably before making any statement, no matter how simple, defensive, self-serving or innocuous you may think it to be.

Think of this as an intelligence test.  Are you smart enough to follow this guidance and avoid this type of mistake?

For more information about investigations and other legal matters, visit

Update All of Your Addresses with Medicare Immediately!

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

Have You Checked Your Addresses on File with CMS/Medicare Recently?

Do you remember the last time you checked all four of the addresses you should have on file for any individual or any group/company Medicare number you may have?  The consequences of not updating these addresses can be severe.  In addition to your mailing (or correspondence address), and your billing address, you also should have a physical address that is complete, accurate and timely.  The telephone number for that physical address should also be in the system.  You must ensure that not only is the street address accurate, but also that any suite, office or apartment number on it is accurate.  Check the zip code, too, just to be certain you did not transpose digits when you entered it.

Auditors, surveyors, inspectors and investigators are often sent out by Medicare and its contractors, including the Medicare Administrative Contractors (or “MACs”) and the Zone Program Integrity Contractors (or “ZPICs”), to the physical address on file.  This is done as a fraud prevention tool to make sure that medical practices, durable medical equipment companies (DMEs), home health agencies (HHAs), and other businesses that receive payments from Medicare are legitimate and are actually operating.

Termination of Medicare Billing Privileges Often Results From Incorrect Addresses.

Site inspections and audits are also conducted by sending auditors on short notice or no notice to the physical address on file.  If your physical address is incomplete (e.g., no suite number) or wrong (e.g., incorrect street address) or is not up to date (e.g., you moved and forgot to update it), the consequences could be severe.  What we have seen most often recently is an action that terminates the Medicare billing privileges.  The provider then is not allowed to reapply for a period of two (2) years from the date of termination.

Update All of Your Addresses with Medicare Immediately.

I urge you to personally and immediately go into the Medicare Provider Enrollment, Chain and Ownership System (PECOS) and the National Plan & Provider Enumeration System (NPPES) NPI Registry and print out a copy of the existing information to check it.  If your address is incorrect or incomplete, immediately submit a correction or have your administrator practice manager do this.

If anything is incorrect, including an incorrect or incomplete name for your medical group, corporation or business, immediately have this corrected, as well.  Everything should be consistent, and all of your state licenses and corporation/company information on file with your Secretary of State should also contain the same information, as well.

What to Do if You Receive a Notice of Termination of Your Medicare Provider Number.

Have you received a notice of termination of your Medicare provider number? Medicare has been revoking the Medicare billing privileges of many different Medicare providers including physicians, medical groups, home health agencies (HHAs), pharmacies, and durable medical equipment (DME) providers, based on returned mail sent to old addresses which have not been updated or based on inspection team site visits to old, incorrect addresses.

Often the termination is retroactive to an earlier date when the change or move may have been determined to have occurred. Even if the mailing address is correct or was changed, the physical address of the business must have been updated, as well. It is usually an incorrect or old physical address which causes this to occur.

The effect of this termination includes:

1. You are prohibited from reapplying to Medicare for at least two (2) years.

2. You may have to pay back any monies received from the Medicare Program since the effective date of the termination (often many months prior to the notification letter).

3. Other auditing agents may be notified such as the Medicare Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPIC) and the state Medicare Fraud Control Unit (MFCU).

4. You may no longer contract with Medicare or anyone who does.

5. You may and probably will be terminated from the approved provider panels of health insurance companies with which you are currently contracted.

6. You may and probably will be terminated from skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) and home health agencies (HHAs) with which you have contracts.

7. You may and probably will have your clinical privileges terminated by hospitals or ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs) where you have them.

What you should not do includes:

1. Don’t bother to write letters or start e-mailing anyone, including CMS or the Medicare Administrative Contractor (or MAC) (previously called the “carrier” or “fiscal intermediary”).

2. Don’t bother to call the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) or the MAC.

3. Don’t bother to file a new CMS Form 855 (application) or a CMS Form 855C (change).

4. Don’t bother to start communicating with CMS or the MAC about your situation and what you need to do about it.

5. Don’t bother to complete and file the short, one-page Corrective Action Plan (CAP) form that is on the CMS or Carrier/MAC website (unless you are close to the deadline and don’t have representation; then you must.)

What we recommend is:

1. Immediately go into the Medicare Provider Enrollment, Chain and Ownership System (PECOS) and the National Plan & Provider Enumeration System (NPPES) NPI Registry and print out a copy of the existing information. Then update or correct any incorrect information on you or your company, if you can. Print out the information as it existed before and print out the information after you have corrected it. (Note: Medicare will act shortly after the letter to you to terminate your access to this, so it may be too late).

2. Hire an experienced health attorney immediately to assist you in putting together and submitting a comprehensive Corrective Action Plan (CAP), a Request for Reconsideration (RFR) and a request for an Appeal Hearing.

3. Note that there is a thirty (30) day deadline for submitting the CAP and a sixty (60) day deadline for requesting an appeal hearing. Do not miss these.

4. Implement formal, written internal policies and procedures to prevent a recurrence of the type of error, oversight or event that caused the termination.  Train your management and staff on these.

The CAP should address every element of the applicable conditions of participation (COP) contained in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). It should include and be supported by all relevant documents, including but not limited to:

1. Documents showing how the error occurred or past efforts to comply.

2. Surety bond guarantees and documents (where required).

3. Insurance coverage documents showing current coverage (general liability, professional liability, vehicle/auto liability).

4. Current licenses and permits.

5. Certificates of good standing and latest annual reports for any corporation or limited liability company.

6. Print-outs from PECOS/NPPES Registry discussed above.

7. Accident reports, insurance claims, police reports, fire reports or other documentation showing why a relocation was required (if this was an issue).

8. Certificates of compliance training for you and your staff, if available.

9. Copies of policies and procedures that you have adopted to keep there from being a recurrence of the situation that led to the termination.

10. An authorization form for your consultant or attorney to represent you in the matter.

All copies should be clear, legible, complete, straight, no corners cut off and no handwriting on them, to the greatest extent possible.

Organize, Label and Index Professionally.

Everything should be professionally assembled, typed, indexed and labeled. It should include a table of contents or an index. Number every page. It should be submitted to the MAC (or the agency/address given in the termination letter) by two (2) reliable means that document both sending and receipt. Keep copies of everything, including postal receipts, airbills, Federal Express labels, courier receipts, etc. It must be received at the address given in the termination letter you received (usually MAC) by the deadline given above. Keep copies of online tracking reports and return receipts.

In most instances, should you show a legitimate reason for the error, show you are currently in compliance, and show what remedial measures you have taken to keep there from being a repeat, the MAC will accept your corrective action plan (CAP) and will reinstate your Medicare number, as things stand currently.

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

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm routinely represent physicians, medical groups, clinics, pharmacies, durable medical equipment (DME) suppliers, home health agencies, nursing homes and other healthcare providers in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits and recovery actions.  They also represent them in preparing and submitting corrective action plans (CAPs), requests for reconsideration, and appeal hearings, including Medicare administrative hearings before an administrative law judge.  Attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent health providers in actions initiated by the Medicaid Fraud Control Units (MFCUs), in False Claims Act cases, in actions initiated by the state to exclude or terminate from the Medicaid Program or by the HHS OIG to exclude from the Medicare Program.

Call now at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 or visit our website

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.  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

Disclaimer:  Please note this article is for general education and information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or solicitation for clients.  Our opinions stated herein are just that, our opinion.

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