Florida Law Aimed at Healthcare Professional Background Screening Passed

Attorney Michael L. SmithBy Michael L. Smith, R.R.T., J.D., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

For several years, many healthcare professionals have been required to pass a Level II background check in order to work in most Florida healthcare facilities licensed by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA). Many healthcare professionals are also required to pass a Level II background check in order to be licensed by the Florida Department of Health (DOH). In March 2020, the Florida Legislature passed House Bill 713, which will add the offenses of battery on a vulnerable adult and battery on a patient or resident of certain healthcare facilities (primarily nursing facilities) as a disqualifying offense. The law took effect on July 1, 2020. Previously, only felony battery and battery on a minor were disqualifying offenses for purposes of the Level II background screening.

More Details on the New Legislation.

A health professional who previously passed the Level II background check may nevertheless be deemed “not eligible” for employment in a licensed health facility on the next Level II background check. This would occur if the practitioner has been found guilty of, regardless of adjudication, or entered a plea of nolo contendere or guilty to battery of a vulnerable adult, or battery on a patient or resident of a healthcare facility. (This is the wording of the statute, not mine.)

A practitioner who is determined to be “not eligible” on a Level II background check due to a disqualifying offense must apply for an exemption from that disqualifying offense, in order to be permitted to work. The practitioner seeking an exemption has the burden of proving that the exemption should be granted. The provider must prove this with clear and convincing evidence, a standard that is higher and stricter than that in a civil trial.

Any health professional seeking an exemption from a disqualifying offense should seek the assistance of an experienced health law attorney familiar with the application process, and the types of evidence that can prove that the health professional should be granted an exemption.

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, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

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

About the Author: Michael L. Smith, R.R.T., J.D., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He 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, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

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

AHCA Exemptions From Employment Disqualification for Florida Health Professionals

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

Florida law requires that health professionals (including physicians, nurses, physical therapists, nurse practitioners, professional counselors, and social workers, among others) obtain a Level 2 background screening before working in a facility licensed by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA).  This includes third and fourth-year medical students, resident physicians, and nursing students.  Often an arrest from years ago, sometimes decades ago, will be located during this screening.  A letter stating that the individual is disqualified from employment or requiring an explanation may result.  What do you do?

Level 2 Background Screens.

A level two background screening requires your fingerprints.  It is done by checking the National Criminal Information System (NCIS) database maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  The NCIS receives reports, arrests, investigations, and criminal actions from all U.S. law enforcement agencies and the military.

It is much broader than a Level 1 background screening and covers all states and U.S. jurisdictions.

Problems and Incomplete Reports.

Although agencies that report arrests and investigations are also supposed to report the outcomes to the NCIS, they often fail to do this.  Therefore there may be incomplete information in the report that is received.  An arrest may be entered, but the dismissal or other resolution of the case may be omitted.  This will cause problems because you will have to explain what happened and produce court documents to prove it.  For example, we had a nurse-client whose Level 2 background screening came back with an arrest for a drunk and disorderly charge, in New Orleans, at Mardi Gras when she was 18 years old, over 30 years prior.  The courthouse had since been flooded during a hurricane, and all records were destroyed.

Another problem lies in military records.  Reports from The Army Criminal Investigative Division  (CID). Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OIS) and Navy Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) are often received and entered into the system, even if the investigation concerned an administrative infraction, a minor infraction of regulations, or resulted in an Article 15 non-judicial punishment (NJP), an administrative proceeding which is not a criminal conviction.  Civilian authorities often mistakenly interpret Article 15 non-judicial punishment (NJP) as a “conviction,” but U.S. Supreme Court cases specifically state that it is not.

Certain Criminal Offenses Will Disqualify Health Professionals from Employment.

Many criminal offenses may be returned on a Level 2 background screening which initially appears to disqualify the individual from being employed in an AHCA-licensed facility, especially where the patients will be elderly, disabled, or children.  In this case, you will get a letter back from AHCA and/or your employer advising you that you are disqualified from employment, but you have thirty (30) days to provide documents to show what really happened, show the charges were dismissed, show that you have completed any sentence you received or show you have been fully rehabilitated.

We recommend that you obtain the services of an experienced health attorney in completing the forms and obtaining and producing the documents needed.  You should contact an attorney at the earliest sign that this might occur.  You will need certified copies of court documents and probation documents, as well as character reference letters.

The fact that you received prior screening when you applied for a license or before you began school is irrelevant to this process.  You will have to follow the procedure, anyway.  In the case of an actual guilty plea, a plea of nolo contendere (no contest), finding of adjudication withheld (deferred), or finding of guilty, you will have to request an exemption or a waiver from AHCA so that you may be cleared to be employed.

The Health Law Firm Attorneys have experience in Complying with AHCA Requirements and in Foiling Requests for Exemptions or Waivers.

The attorneys at The Health Law Firm have experience completing the petitions and providing the documents and explanations that AHCA requires in such matters.

Below is a copy of a decision letter from AHCA showing a successful result in such a case.

Exemptions for Employment Disqualification for Health Professionals

For more information, read our recent blog on Florida’s legislation on background checks for health professionals.

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, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and other healthcare providers. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

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

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., 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, FL 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 © 2022 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

U.S. Government Renews COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, Extending Health Benefits for Millions of Americans

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

On July 15, 2022, the United States again renewed the COVID-19 public health emergency, allowing millions of Americans special access to free tests, vaccines, and treatments. The public health emergency was initially declared in January 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic began. Since then, the Department of Health and Human Services has renewed it each quarter. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra officially renewed the declaration extending it through October 13, 2022. View it in full here.

Ensuring Continued Access to Special Services During the Public-Health Emergency.

The declaration allows the U.S. to grant emergency authorizations of drugs, vaccines, and other medical countermeasures. As a result, it can administer those products to millions of people at no out-of-pocket cost. It’s also enabled millions of Americans to get health coverage through Medicaid, among other benefits.

It may also have additional benefits, such as allowing certain health care professionals to practice across state lines without getting a license in the state where the patient is and encouraging the continuation of video visits (telemedicine). But check your state and national regulations to be sure.

When the public health emergency expires, insured patients will be subject to co-pays or other costs, while the uninsured will lose easy access to free testing. In addition, millions could risk losing Medicaid coverage as states reinstate stricter enrollment rules that they had loosened to qualify for enhanced federal funding.

The Biden administration has ensured states it will give 60 days’ notice before ending the emergency to allow sufficient time to prepare for changes to specific programs and regulatory authorities. To learn more about Public Health Emergency Declarations, visit the Office for the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response.

To read one of my prior blogs on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in the healthcare industry, 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, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and other healthcare providers. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, fellows, medical school professors, and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and Department of Health investigations.

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

Sources:

Aboulenein, Ahmed. “U.S. Renews COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.” Reuters. (April 13, 2022). Web.

Griffin, Riley. “Biden Administration to Again Extend the Covid Public-Health Emergency.” Bloomberg Law. (July 11, 2022). Web.

AHLA. “US Government To Extend COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Again.” Health Law Daily. (July 13, 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 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.

“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.

 

 

 

First COVID-19 Breathalyzer Test Authorized By FDA

Author Headshot

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

On April 14, 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for the first Covid-19 diagnostic test that uses breath samples. The test, made by Texas-based company, InspectIR Systems, is authorized for those patients 18 and older.

InspectIR expects to produce approximately 100 testing instruments per week, which can each be used to evaluate approximately 160 samples per day. At this level of production, testing capacity using the InspectIR COVID-19 Breathalyzer is expected to increase by about 64,000 samples per month, according to the FDA’s statement.

The Testing Requirements.

The test can only be performed in environments where the patient’s specimen is collected and analyzed, such as doctor’s offices, hospitals, and mobile testing sites.

Additionally, the test must be performed by a qualified, trained operator under the supervision of a licensed health care provider or authorized by state law to prescribe tests. The test detects chemicals associated with the virus that causes the disease in a breath sample in less than three minutes. If it’s positive, it should be followed up by a molecular test, the agency said in a statement.

“Today’s authorization is yet another example of the rapid innovation occurring with diagnostic tests for Covid-19,” Dr. Jeff Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said.

Read the FDA’s press release and get even more information.

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, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

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

Sources:

Helsel, Phil. “FDA authorizes first Covid-19 breath test.” NBC News. (April 14, 2022). Web.

Muller, Madison. “Breathalyzer Test for Covid-19 Wins Approval From FDA.” Bloomberg. (April 14, 2022). Web.

Mckinney, Jim. “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes First COVID-19 Diagnostic Test Using Breath Samples.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (April 14, 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 Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 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 © 2022 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

COVID Uninsured Provider Relief Fund Expected To Run Out of Money Soon If Congress Doesn’t Act

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

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created the “Provider Relief Fund” (PRF) to help support healthcare providers in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal program has served as a lifeline to frontline healthcare workers who’ve experienced revenue losses and increased demand for their services during the pandemic.

To date, it has allocated more than $178 billion in payments to over 410,000 providers across the United States. Click here to learn more.

COVID-19 Uninsured Relief Fund.

Let’s start with some good news: Under the COVID-19 relief funding, HHS created the “uninsured relief fund.” This program provides claims reimbursement to health care providers for testing, treating, diagnosis, and administering vaccines to uninsured individuals for COVID-19. It has paid out more than $17 billion throughout the pandemic. It has paid out more than $17 billion throughout the pandemic.

Of the $17 billion, HHS has distributed nearly $10 billion for testing, more than $6 billion reimbursed for treatment, and the remainder covered vaccinations. Read more on the statistics here.

Running Out of Money.

Now for the bad news: According to an HHS spokesperson, there’s only $7.6 billion left, and the money will run out in the coming months. Congress isn’t currently considering making more funding available, meaning providers and patients are likely to have soon to bear the costs themselves.

Therefore, many hospitals and healthcare organizations urge Congress to replenish the PRF. “One of the most helpful and patient-oriented uses of the PRF was to help those people who for whatever reasons are uninsured and suffer from COVID-19,” said Federation of American Hospitals CEO Chip Kahn. “It meant that no one should have any reluctance to go to the hospital if they have COVID but no insurance.”

Additionally, on February 9, 2022, the American Hospital Association released a statement urging readers to contact lawmakers to get Congress to provide another $25 billion for the PRF in the government funding package. Read the AHA’s action alert here.

As we approach nearly two years since HHS declared COVID-19 a national public health emergency, PRF has been a lifeline to hospitals, health systems, and medical professionals. It has been helping to keep doors open during the pandemic to continue providing essential care to patients and communities. However, if the program runs out of money and Congress doesn’t appropriate more, hospitals could be left footing the bill, which will hurt both providers and patients in the end.

Read one of my previous blogs on a similar case regarding a Florida Dentist’s COVID-19 Business Interruption Insurance Claim to learn even more.

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, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

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

Sources:

Hellmann, Jessie. “HHS running out of money to pay providers for treating uninsured COVID-19 patients.” Modern Healthcare. (February 8, 2022). Web.

HRSA. “Covid Uninsured Claim.” Health Resources & Services Administration. (February 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 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.

“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.

Florida’s Protecting DNA Privacy Act: How Will It Affect Healthcare Providers?

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

On June 29, 2021, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law HB 833, known as the “Protecting DNA Privacy Act,” which took effect in Florida October 1, 2021. Under the act, collecting or submitting another person’s DNA sample for analysis without his or her express consent now constitutes a second-degree felony in the state of Florida.  It amends Section 760.40, Florida Statutes, with the criminal penalties being set forth in Section 817.5655, Florida Statutes.

The new law clarifies the extent to which individuals own their genetic information. It also creates new crimes for the unlawful collection, retention, analysis, disclosure, or sale of an individual’s DNA sample and the results of a DNA analysis.  The act also has important implications for secondary uses of data by health care providers and others that perform genetic testing and analyze genetic information.


What is Genetic/DNA Privacy Law?

The use and accessibility of genetic testing, primarily through direct-to-consumer options (companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com ), has significantly increased in recent years, which has resulted in growing concerns about the privacy of genetic information and its use by third parties.

The Florida Legislature has focused on strengthening the protections surrounding genetic information. In 2020, it amended Florida law to limit the use of genetic information by life insurance companies for specific insurance purposes, including underwriting. Click here to read the final bill analysis for the act.


The Impact on Healthcare Professionals.

The new law will have the biggest impact on physicians who employ DNA testing in their practices. Physicians who collect or submit a patient’s DNA sample for DNA analysis will have to first obtain the patient’s express consent to do so.

“Express consent” is defined as “authorization by the person whose DNA is to be extracted or analyzed, or such person’s legal guardian or authorized representative, evidenced by an affirmative action demonstrating an intentional decision after the person receives a clear and prominent disclosure regarding the manner of collection, use, retention, maintenance, or disclosure of a DNA sample or results of a DNA analysis for specified purposes.”

This means that physicians who wish to have a patient’s DNA analyzed for a specified purpose need first to explain how the DNA sample will be collected, used, retained, and maintained and how the results of the DNA analysis will be used. This information ideally will be outlined in a formal, written document that the patient will sign. In addition, the legislation allows physicians to obtain a single express consent for every instance of a specified purpose or use.

What This Means For You.

Any healthcare professional engaged in such activities should consider reevaluating their consent processes to determine whether they obtain appropriate consent for all uses of de-identified results of DNA analysis. To learn more, click here.

Click here to view HB 833 in full.

Click here to review Section 760.40, Florida Statutes.

Click Here to review Section 817.5655, Florida Statutes, containing the criminal penalties.


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, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

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


Sources:

Peloquin, David. “What Fla. DNA Privacy Law Means For Health Providers.” Law360. (October 4, 2021). Web.

“How the new DNA privacy law could affect your practice.” Florida Society of Clinical Oncology. (September 20, 2021). 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 Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 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 © 2022 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Court Allows New York Doctor To Subpoena Yelp for User Information in Defamation Suit

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

On October 7, 2021, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that Yelp is subject to a subpoena to reveal the names of anonymous users who left negative reviews for a doctor and his medical practice. The federal court judge found that the statements in the reviews made on Yelp contained factual claims that the doctor did have a legal right to contest in court. This is a factor that is usually missing in such cases. Accordingly, a motion for expedited discovery filed by the plaintiff physician was granted by the federal judge.

A Litigious History of Lawsuits.

The embattled physician has reportedly filed other lawsuits against reviewers for defamation. The doctor himself says he’s won or reached settlements with three of the negative reviewers, forcing them to take down their “false” reviews and paying an undisclosed amount of money.

Most recently, the physician filed suit in November 2020 against nine anonymous Yelp account-holders. According to the complaint, from November 2019 to August 2020, the users posted several reviews that contained statements that harmed his practice by making untrue and libelous comments.

In the present case we are discussing filed against the Yelp reviewer, the judge found that statements such as the physician “diluted” injectables and deceived patients about pricing to be factual statements. (The physician is apparently one who performs cosmetic procedures on patients like using botox and fillers.) Therefore, if they were false statements, as the physician alleged, this establishes a prima facie claim for defamation that courts have the authority to hear. According to the court’s order: “Because Plaintiff has alleged a prima facie case . . . and they cannot identify John Doe[s] without a court-ordered subpoena, the Court agrees that there is good cause to allow for early discovery.”  Click here to view the court’s opinion on our website.

I see this as a positive occurrence. Too often reviewers on Yelp, Google, Glass Door, and other such websites post egregious comments amounting to character assassination and libel, because they believe they can remain anonymous. And the owners of the websites fight tooth and toenail to avoid any liability and to avoid any co-operation when justice is sought by those harmed by their actions. We have had a number of cases we have handled where a “reviewer” uses a phony name and creates a phony user account just for the purpose of making a libelous, damaging review. Then, if caught, they just create a new phony account and re-post the same thing again. If the major carriers and websites like Yelp, Google, Bing, AOL, and Glass Door, want to remain free of liability, then they should co-operate when a person has to hire a lawyer and pursue legal action in order to obtain justice.

Is This Abusing the Legal System in An Effort to Stifle Free Speech?

Yelp reportedly warns users of the physician’s previous attempts to sue over negative reviews in a “Consumer Alert” pop-up notice on the doctor’s review page. Additionally, it reminds users, “reviewers who share their experiences have a First Amendment right to express their opinions on Yelp.”

Unlike a newspaper or television outlet, Yelp, Google, Glass Door, and other Internet carriers and websites enjoy immunity from liability for what they allow to be posted because of a federal law that protects them. Why are they given such a big advantage over more traditional media outlets? Why should they be?

In a separate lawsuit, a judge denied the effort by the same doctor to reveal the anonymous reviewer who wrote: “Cheap product and he’s absolutely not experienced nor does he care!!!!!” Yelp argued that the review is not defamatory as there is no statement of fact that can be proven true or false. The court agreed and found that the review used a “loose, figurative tone,” suggesting that the author expressed opinions rather than facts based on a negative experience.

Therefore, according to the court, the plaintiff was not able to make “a sufficient showing of prima facie defamation.” Click here to read the judge’s order in full in that case.

I disagree with the court’s ruling, however. Whether or not the physician has any experience is certainly a fact. It can easily be proven or disproven. It seems that if a doctor hung up a sign that said “Absolutely no Experience,” this would be perceived by most reasonable people to be a negative thing. I doubt that many people would be attracted to that doctor or his practice.

Key Takeaway From the Case.

The key takeaway from this case is that contrary to what Yelp’s pop-up notice implies, Yelp’s users have “implicitly agreed” to the release of their personal data if ordered by a court.

To learn more about fighting negative reviews on websites like Yelp as a healthcare professional, click here to read my prior blog.

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

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, Durable Medical Equipment suppliers, medical students and interns, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. We represent facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing physicians in investigations and at Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine hearings. We represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, in patient complaints and in Department of Health investigations.

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

Sources:

Capriel, Jonathan. “Doc Can Subpoena Yelp User Info In Botox Defamation Suit.” Law360. (October 7, 2021). Web.

Marza, Mike. “Manhattan doctor sues over Yelp reviews he says are false.” ABC 7NY. (November 19, 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., Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 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.

COVID-19 Provider Relief Fund Expected To Run Out of Money If Congress Doesn’t Act Soon

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

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created the “Provider Relief Fund” (PRF) to help support healthcare providers in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal program has served as a lifeline to frontline healthcare workers who’ve experienced revenue losses and increased demand for their services during the pandemic.

To date, it has allocated more than $178 billion in payments to over 410,000 providers across the United States. Click here to learn more.

COVID-19 Uninsured Relief Fund.

Let’s start with some good news: Under the COVID-19 relief funding, HHS created the “uninsured relief fund.” This program provides claims reimbursement to health care providers for testing, treating, diagnosis, and administering vaccines to uninsured individuals for COVID-19. It has paid out more than $17 billion throughout the pandemic. It has paid out more than $17 billion throughout the pandemic.

Of the $17 billion, HHS has distributed nearly $10 billion for testing, more than $6 billion reimbursed for treatment, and the remainder covered vaccinations. Read more on the statistics here.

Running Out of Money.

Now for the bad news: According to an HHS spokesperson, there’s only $7.6 billion left, and the money will run out in the coming months. Congress isn’t currently considering making more funding available, meaning providers and patients are likely to have soon to bear the costs themselves.

Therefore, many hospitals and healthcare organizations urge Congress to replenish the PRF. “One of the most helpful and patient-oriented uses of the PRF was to help those people who for whatever reasons are uninsured and suffer from COVID-19,” said Federation of American Hospitals CEO Chip Kahn. “It meant that no one should have any reluctance to go to the hospital if they have COVID but no insurance.”

Additionally, on February 9, 2022, the American Hospital Association released a statement urging readers to contact lawmakers to get Congress to provide another $25 billion for the PRF in the government funding package. Read the AHA’s action alert here.

As we approach nearly two years since HHS declared COVID-19 a national public health emergency, PRF has been a lifeline to hospitals, health systems, and medical professionals. It has been helping to keep doors open during the pandemic to continue providing essential care to patients and communities. However, if the program runs out of money and Congress doesn’t appropriate more, hospitals could be left footing the bill, which will hurt both providers and patients in the end.

Read one of my previous blogs on a similar case regarding a Florida Dentist’s COVID-19 Business Interruption Insurance Claim to learn even more.

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, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

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

Sources:

Hellmann, Jessie. “HHS running out of money to pay providers for treating uninsured COVID-19 patients.” Modern Healthcare. (February 8, 2022). Web.

HRSA. “Covid Uninsured Claim.” Health Resources & Services Administration. (February 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 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.

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