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Playing The Odds: Hedge Funds Finance Medical Malpractice Claims Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Segal, MD, JD, FACS, Michael Sacopulos, JD and Wayne Oliver   
Thursday, 07 July 2011 09:36

IN OUR OPINION

Investors are always looking to earn an easy profit, particularly from well-managed companies. But when the profit is from a hedge fund that finances medical malpractice lawsuits aimed at driving doctors out of the profession, Wall Street may have gone too far.

An entirely new industry has cropped in recent years as trial lawyers set their sights on making money off physicians, corporations and other targets--particularly financing malpractice suits through hedge funds. In 2010, hedge funds invested $1 billion in these types of suits, much of it for medical malpractice cases.

Frivolous lawsuits are helping drive physicians out of the profession and pushing up the cost of health care. A Gallup-Jackson health care survey released last year found that $1 in every $4 spent in health care is for unnecessary tests and procedures that doctors order to prevent from being sued.

Click here to read more.                                   

Forbes.com Commentary - June 23, 2011

 
Drug Test Law May Face Costly Legal Challenges Print E-mail
Written by Bernd Wollschlaeger, MD   
Sunday, 03 July 2011 09:14

IN MY OPINION

Attached a link to an article published recently in the Orlando Sentinel pointing out that a new state law requiring welfare applicants to be drug-tested goes into effect today.

The law stipulates that parents with minor children who request temporary cash assistance must undergo a drug test. The average benefit check per family is $240 a month with a lifetime limit of 48 months.

About 4,000 Floridians each month may be affected by the new law. The 93,000 state residents already receiving such benefits would not be affected unless they reapply. In addition all parents who test positive for drugs — including legal drugs not prescribed for the parent — will be reported automatically to the state's abuse hotline. Applicants will have to pay for the drug tests themselves, though those who test negative will be reimbursed in the first benefit check they receive. Those who test positive also would have the chance to get a second, more-sophisticated screening — at their own expense of up to $100 — and have an official medical review of the testing (MRO) .It is still unclear whether those expenses would be reimbursed if the applicant is ultimately cleared. The law may violate the constitutional standard requiring that the government must have reason to believe an individual is using drugs before demanding a test. Michigan, the only other state to pass a similar law, had it struck down in court. Therefore, it most probably will face a costly legal challenge on taxpayers’ expense!! Furthermore, by implementing this policy the state government should have provided drug treatment options for those welfare recipients with children who test positive for drugs. The new law falls short of this option, too.

In my opinion this new law is a bad idea which will face a long and costly court battle and will further divert scarce state resources from more important issues such as drug use prevention and treatment programs.

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 July 2011 09:47
 
New Florida Law You Won't Believe Print E-mail
Written by Michael Sacopulos, JD   
Tuesday, 28 June 2011 00:00

ASK MIKE 

Medical Justice: Medico-Legal Q&A 

Q:         I've recently heard that the Florida legislature has passed a law prohibiting physicians from asking their patients about alcohol consumption and firearms. Is this a joke?

Bill in Tallahassee

A:         Bill, what you heard is partially correct. The Florida legislature recently passed a law (HB 155) prohibiting physicians from asking patients about their firearm ownership. The impetus for this law remains unclear to me. Perhaps there was a fear that patients would be denied access to care if they admitted to owning a firearm.

            The part of your question relating to alcohol consumption is false. No law has been passed (or to the best of my knowledge even been proposed) prohibiting physicians from questioning patients regarding alcohol consumption. This part of your question may have come from someone misinterpreting an article that substitute the term "alcohol consumption" for the term "firearm ownership" in the new law. The article was written as a persuasive piece against the new law. It attempted draw attention and raise emotions to the issue by substituting terms.

            Personally, I've never had a physician question me regarding gun ownership. It is difficult for me to even to imagine where during the history and physical that such a question would be launched. So it would be easy for me to say that the law, while peculiar, is essentially irrelevant. That would be a mistake.

            I think the larger issue is an interference with communication between physician and patient. For centuries, the law has recognized the importance of physician patient communications. Privilege extends over those communications such that a physician may not be compelled to disclose information obtained from a patient without that patient's permission or a court order. The idea here is to give patients confidence and comfort in discussing highly personal matters with their physician. Similar privileges exist between lawyers and clients and clergy (known as the priest/penitent privilege). It seems to me that the Florida law does harm to physician patient communication because it begins to regulate the communication instead of protecting it.

            The timing of this legislation seems particularly poor.  On May 26th, Florida transplant surgeon Dmitriy Nikitin was gunned down by a former patient in a parking garage.  Dr. Nikitin was shot multiple times.  The former patient, Nelson Flecha, then shot himself.  By all accounts, Dr. Nikitin was a young  (41), gifted surgeon that specialized in liver, kidney, pancreas and intestinal transplants. 

              The matter of firearms discussion in Florida exam rooms seems far from resolved. Four different physician groups have joined together to challenge the constitutionality of this new Florida law. It will be some time before this case works its way through the Florida courts.

Michael J. Sacopulos is a Partner with Sacopulos, Johnson & Sacopulos, in Terre Haute, Indiana. His core expertise is in medical malpractice defense and third party payment disputes. Sacopulos may be reached at mike_sacopulos@sacopulos.com

Last Updated on Sunday, 03 July 2011 09:24
 
Using Medicare Claims Data for Improved Outcomes Print E-mail
Written by Bernd Wollschlaeger, M.D   
Sunday, 19 June 2011 09:08

The New York Times recently published an article entitled “Medicare Claims Show Overuse for CT Scanning.”

The authors highlight that according to Medicare claims data some hospitals overuse chest CT scans and, thereby, needlessly expose patients to radiation by scanning their chests twice on the same day. The Medicare agency distributed the data to hospitals last year to show how they performed relative to each other and to encourage more efficient, safer practices. The review of that data found more than 200 hospitals that administered double scans on more than 30 percent of their Medicare outpatients — a percentage that the federal agency and radiology experts considers far too high. The national average is 5.4 percent. The figures show wide variation among states as well, from 1 percent in Massachusetts to 13 percent in Oklahoma. Overall, Medicare paid hospitals roughly $25 million for double scans in 2008. Added revenue may not be the reason dual scans are ordered. But the absence of treatment protocols may explain the variation of CT Chest use among physicians.

Possible solutions should include standardized, evidence-based diagnosis and treatment procedures according to which physicians can tailor their approach to patient care accordingly.

I hope that Medicare will open its database for researchers and health economists to help all of us to make educated and smart medical care decisions which will benefit our patients, too.

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 19 June 2011 09:14
 
CO necessary for locum tenens? Print E-mail
Written by Michael Sacopulos, JD   
Tuesday, 24 May 2011 08:53

ASK MIKE

Medical Justice Medico-Legal Q&A

Q:  I am a locum tenens physician licensed in Florida. Am I required to obtain my own permit for certificate of occupancy in the city and county for which I may have temporary employment or am I covered by the physician for whom I am covering?

A:  Good question.  A certificate of occupancy, or as it is sometimes referred to as a zoning permit, assures that the business is allowed in the zoning district where it is located.  A certificate of occupancy is generally required when a building is erected, altered, or the existing building goes through a change of occupant, name, or type of business.  Thus, in your case, temporary employment would not necessitate the obtaining or transferring of a certificate of occupancy. Just to be sure, I contacted officials in several Florida counties.  While each had slightly different rules, all agreed that you would not need a certificate of occupancy.  It is always prudent to contact the county or city zoning department in which the building is located since there are differences in the local zoning requirements throughout Florida. 

Michael J. Sacopulos is a Partner with Sacopulos, Johnson & Sacopulos, in Terre Haute, Indiana. His core expertise is in medical malpractice defense and third party payment disputes. Sacopulos may be reached at mike_sacopulos@sacopulos.com

 
Reader Response 4-21-11 Print E-mail
Written by Jeffrey Herschler   
Saturday, 23 April 2011 15:33

Regarding FL Docs Monitor Pending Legislation

Democrats have aligned themselves with plaintiff attorneys for years to block any meaningful federal legislation designed to reign in runaway jury verdicts for pain and suffering in medical malpractice insurance cases.  Not only has this hurt doctors and patients but has driven up the cost of defensive medicine to unprecedented levels in the last decade.  Each and every year we could pay for millions of uninsured Americans' healthcare by simply putting reasonable caps on non-economic damages.   

-Matt Gracey, Danna Gracey

Regarding New CEO of Jackson

I am skeptical.  To see two very capable candidates with relevant experience passed over for a county government insider, a banker no less, is disconcerting  As a Dade County taxpayer, I am hoping for the best.  As a realist, I am very concerned.

-Name Withheld by Request

Regarding PDMP to Begin Operations

This is indeed good news and I want to thank all of the many activists and citizens of our great State of Florida who invested so much time and efforts to support this noble cause.

-Bernd Wollschlaeger, MD
 
Why opting out of health care reform is a bad choice Print E-mail
Written by Bernd Wollschlaeger, MD   
Wednesday, 20 April 2011 15:20

In My Opinion

In an excellent editorial published in the Miami Herald, (Click here to see article) Steven Marcus, President and CEO of Health Foundation of South Florida, points out that:

"Florida has a healthcare crisis - and we need to do something. The law is not perfect but it is a giant step in the right direction. The protections under the Affordable Care Act move us forward to a time when citizens won't have to wait until they are so sick that they have to go to emergency rooms for the most expensive care. Rather, they will have coverage to go to a family or primary-care doctor. But before anyone looks forward to a healthier Florida and nation, here's a dose of reality: The benefits from consumer protections increasingly are at risk of being taken away. The actions of many of Florida's elected officials reflect a lack of concern for thousands of our low-wage workers and other citizens who will go without care and instead declare personal bankruptcy over a medical emergency. This leads to community bankruptcy for unpaid, expensive medical and hospital bills. Is this what Floridians deserve? I don't think so. Let's get behind this law and tell our officials to do the same, it will attract businesses and jobs to Florida by reducing costs that are dragging down our economy. Let Florida join the other states in planning by taking the federal money offered to create a brighter and healthier future for all Floridians."  

By blocking and stalling the implementation of the entire healthcare reform package the political leadership in Tallahassee jeopardizes the access to healthcare to four million uninsured residents in Florida. This rigid and ideologically misguided attitude will hurt the business of medicine in Florida, too. Recognizing this problem, Michael W. Garner, President and CEO of the Florida Association of Health Plans, said that Florida should pass bills to keep aspects of its health insurance market in state control, instead of letting the federal government regulate the market under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). He is correct in stating that that health insurance companies in Florida will have to struggle to meet the federal guidelines and standards set forth by the PPACA. It is obvious that Governor Rick Scott's ideologically driven policy is not only bad for our health but also bad medicine for big business in Florida.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 April 2011 15:30
 
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