Authored by Marcus Leonard and Jamaal R. Jones, Esq.
Inevitably, we will all pass away at some point in hopefully the distant future. Some of our deaths will be expected while others will come as a complete shock. Many people formulate a plan for after their passing and make arrangements accordingly for the succession of their personal and business affairs and belongings, while others do not. Occasionally, that deceased person happens to be the only physician in the medical practice. The staff and surviving family members have to quickly determine what their options are and whether they can legally continue to operate the practice without the physician.
Florida does not have the same Corporate Practice of Medicine Prohibitions as other states. In short, this means that you do not have to be a licensed medical doctor or doctor of osteopathy to own a medical practice. Many people erroneously believe that because of this fact they can continue to run the physician’s practice without taking any further action after she passes away. The Florida Health Care Clinic Act (the “Act”) requires that all health care clinics operating in Florida maintain a valid license by the State unless they fall within a statutory exemption. Also, if the health care clinic is cash-pay only and not accepting reimbursement from a commercial payor, Medicare or Medicaid then Florida law allows the business to continue to run without first obtaining the license. According to the Act, a “clinic” is defined as an entity which provides health care services to patients and bills third party payers for reimbursement for providing those health care services. Clinics that are “wholly owned by one or more licensed health care practitioners” are exempt from obtaining a health care clinic license. Thus, if a clinic is owned by a licensed health care practitioner who is supervising the services performed at the clinic and who is legally responsible for the entity’s compliance with all federal and state laws, the clinic falls within one of the exceptions and is exempt from the Act’s licensure requirements. However, in the untimely event that a sole physician/owner passes away, the clinic is no longer afforded exemption from the Act’s licensing requirements and is no longer in compliance with the law.
What are my Options?
In this instance, the family members have the following choices: (1) close the practice; (2) sell the practice; or (3) apply for a health care clinic license. If the decision is made to close the practice then you have to make sure that you wind up and dissolve the business accordingly. Alternatively, it can be tricky if the decision is made to sell the practice. Even if you hire another physician to provide treatment to the patients while you try to find a buyer for the practice you will still be violating the Act. As a result, you must not continue to provide health care services until the practice is sold to someone or an entity that qualifies for an exemption under the Act or until you receive a health care clinic license.
This is important because Florida law provides that an insurer is not required to pay for medical treatment that is not lawfully provided. The plain language of the Act makes clear that a claim for reimbursement made by a clinic that is not properly licensed or that is otherwise operating in violation of the Act, constitutes an unlawful charge that is deemed non-compensable and unenforceable.
Filing the application with the Agency for Health Care Administration for a health care clinic license it tedious and must be done carefully or you risk denial. Also, the applicant should not expect to receive the license expeditiously.
Under the Act, it is considered theft for an entity that does not have a health care clinic license and does not meet the requirements for an exemption to submit a charge for reimbursement. You can be charged with committing a third-degree felony if you operate an unlicensed clinic. Each day that the person violates the act is considered a separate offense. If a physician who is working for a clinic knows or has reasonable cause that the clinic is operating without a license and fails to report the clinic then that physician will be reported to the medical board for failure to report the clinic. There will also be administrative penalties imposed upon those who practice without a license.
A clinic is required to register for a license under the Act even if they were previously exempt from licensure requirements prior to the physician’s death unless some other applicable exemption exists. A sole health care provider should create a plan for succession in the event of their death. For example, upon the physician’s death the shares of the practice can “automatically” transfer to another physician of their choosing so that there isn’t a gap in care to patients. This would require careful planning and legal considerations beforehand. Our firm is well equipped with knowledgeable and experienced health law attorneys who can assist you with planning for this difficult event.
It should be noted that I am not your lawyer (unless you have presently retained my services through a retainer agreement). This post is not intended as legal advice, it is purely educational and informational, and no attorney-client relationship shall result after reading it. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice. If you do not have one and would like to retain my legal services, please contact me using the contact information listed above.
All information and references made to laws, rules, regulations, and advisory opinions were accurate based on the law as it existed at this time, but laws are constantly evolving. Please contact me to be sure that the law which will govern your business is current. Thank you.
Many states place restrictions on how medical doctors, optometrists, and dentists may organize themselves and conduct business within the state. Some states place significant restrictions on these healthcare providers while others are more lenient. Several states have enacted laws that prohibit certain healthcare providers from being employed by or controlled by any corporation or business, which is not entirely owned by other physicians. This is referred to as the prohibition of the “corporate practice of medicine.” Florida is unique in many ways, including its approach to regulating how these healthcare providers can organize themselves. Florida does not place the same corporate prohibitions on medical doctors as it does with dentists and optometrists.
Under Florida law, licensed healthcare professionals may organize themselves as professional service corporations (“P.A.”) or as professional limited liability companies (“PLC”). However, if a provider organizes her business as a P.A. or PLC she is only allowed to have other members who are in the same profession in her association. They may act as shareholders, officers, or directors of the corporation. For example, a P.A. may only be comprised of M.D.’s and is prohibited from allowing other healthcare providers such as, D.O.’s, dentists or optometrists from becoming shareholders of that P.A.
In Florida, Healthcare providers may also choose to organize themselves as a regular business corporation, with the “Inc.” designation, or as a Florida limited liability company.
Florida professional corporations are governed by the laws contained in Florida Statutes §§ 607, 620 and 621. Additionally, certain healthcare providers are regulated by one or more of the following statutes, Florida Statutes §§ 456 – 468, depending on the type of healthcare services that they provide and the licenses that they hold. Healthcare providers must ensure that they strictly comply with all applicable Florida Statutes and the Florida Administrative Code. Therefore, it is extremely important to hire a knowledgeable attorney that specializes in health law to ensure that your practice is complying with the applicable laws.
Corporate Practice of Medicine
As of April 2018, Florida does not have any laws that expressly prohibits the corporate practice of medicine. In other words, a physician (M.D. or D.O) may be employed by or contracted by non-physician owned corporations for the provision of healthcare services.
Throughout the years, several Declaratory Statements have been issued the Florida Department of Health indicating that there is no prohibition on the practice of medicine by physicians as corporate employees. In re Crow, Crow was a Florida licensed physician who sold his practice to a corporation and was then hired as an employee by that corporation and was provided a flat-fee salary for the provision of his services. Dr. Crow informed each patient of his relationship with the corporation but maintained exclusive control over the medical diagnosis and treatment of patients, and the corporation had no authority to exercise control over Dr. Crow’s professional judgment or the manner in which he rendered medical care to patients. The Board found that this arrangement was permissible so long as the fees generated for the corporation by professional services were actually provided by Dr. Crow and those under his direct supervision.
Corporate Practice of Optometry
Unlike the corporate practice of medicine, Florida expressly prohibits the corporate practice of optometry. Florida Statute §463.014 states that no corporation, lay person, organization or individual other than a licensed practitioner can engage in the practice of optometry by engaging the services, through paying a salary, commission, or other means of inducement to any Florida licensed optometrist.
The law does allow for a licensed practitioner, such as an optometrist, to associate with a multidisciplinary group of licensed healthcare professionals, the primary purpose of which is the diagnosis and treatment of the human body. Optometrists may also employ, or form partnerships or professional associations with Florida licensed practitioners or healthcare professionals, the primary purpose of which is the diagnosis and treatment of the human body.
Corporate Practice of Dentistry
The corporate practice of dentistry is prohibited under Florida law. Florida Statute §466.0285 states that no person other than a Florida licensed dentist or any entity other than a professional corporation or limited liability company composed of dentists may:
Any lease agreement, rental agreement, or other arrangement between a non-dentist and a dentist whereby the non-dentist provides the dentist with dental equipment or dental materials must provide that the dentist maintains complete care, custody, and control of the equipment or practice.
Dentists must examine the administrative rules implemented by the Florida Board of Dentistry because these rules provide guidance in addition to the statutory law. The Florida Board of Optometry also has its own set of rules that could impact an optometrist’s relationship with others and how it conducts its business.
Whether you are considering creating a corporation for your healthcare practice to take advantage of tax benefits or to limit your exposure to certain types of liability you must determine whether the proposed structure for your corporation is compliant with applicable healthcare laws. For example, Florida law prohibits “fee-splitting” by healthcare professionals. Failure to do so could result in fines, penalties, closure of your office, or imprisonment.
Throughout Florida, a healthy number of licensed healthcare practitioners and healthcare entrepreneurs are joining or investing in multi-disciplinary practices for numerous reasons. The primary reason for their foray into this modern approach to the delivery of medicine is usually due to the rising costs of administering treatment. They are attracted to the idea of increasing revenue, minimizing administrative duties, and partnering with like-minded individuals that may grow their individual practice. However, there are several business and legal challenges that members of a multi-disciplinary practice must consider prior to participating in the practice.