1st DCA Upholds Allstate Use of Medical Fee Schedules

In an opinion filed March 18, 2015, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal held that language in an Allstate Insurance Co. policy gave sufficient notice to an assignee of its election to use Medicare fee schedules to limit benefit reimbursements under a PIP policy. Stand-Up MRI of Tallahassee, an assignee of 14 named insureds, sued Allstate in county court, contending that Allstate’s alleged failure to give adequate notice was contrary to the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Geico v. Virtual Imaging. The trial court agreed with Stand-Up MRI and certified a question of great public importance to the Appellate Court.

In Virtual Imaging, as here, an MRI provider had supplied services and then disputed the insurer’s authority to limit reimbursements under Medicare fee schedules. Pursuant to the Florida PIP statute, automobile insurers are required to provide PIP coverage for 80 percent of all “reasonable expenses” for medically necessary services.

The dispute here centers on whether Allstate’s policy language provided adequate notice of its election to limit reimbursements via the Medicare fee schedules or if, as Stand-Up MRI contends, the policy fails because it is ambiguous. Allstate points to the following language in the policy as having satisfied the Virtual Imaging notice requirement:

In accordance with the Florida Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law, [Allstate] will pay to or on behalf of the injured person the following benefits. . . .

Medical Expenses

Eighty percent of reasonable expenses for medically necessary … services. …

Any amounts payable under this coverage shall be subject to any and all limitations, authorized by section 627.736, or any other provisions of the Florida Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law, as enacted, amended or otherwise continued in the law, including, but not limited to, all fee schedules.

The appellate court agreed with Allstate, concluding that the policy gives sufficient notice of its election to limit reimbursements by use of the fee schedules. In making its decision, the court pointed to language in the policy stating that reimbursements “shall” be subject to the limitations of §627.736, including “all fee schedules.”

Section 627.736(5)(a) 2 refers to Medicare fee schedule-based limitations and provides that insurers “may limit reimbursement to 80 percent of the … schedule of maximum charges.” Thus, concluded the court, the notice requirement was satisfied by Allstate’s language limiting “any amounts payable” to the fee schedule-based limitations found in the statute.

Furthermore, the court also distinguished the language in Allstate’s policy from that found deficient in Virtual Imaging. There, the Florida Supreme Court concluded that Geico’s policy failed to “indicate in any way” that it intended to limit its reimbursement amounts using the fee schedules. Here, Allstate’s policy expressly limits reimbursements by “all fee schedules” in the statute, satisfying the Virtual Imaging notice requirement.

Stand-Up MRI also contended that Allstate’s use of the phrase “subject to . . . all fee schedules” fails to provide sufficient notice that reimbursements will always be limited by the fee schedules, arguing that “subject to” means only that Allstate had the option to limit reimbursements per the Medicare fee schedule , not that it would so limit reimbursements. The court, however, found no such ambiguity, stating that the language of the policy makes reimbursements subordinate to the fee schedule in “rather unmistakable terms.”

In sum, the court concluded that Allstate’s policy language gave legally sufficient notice to its insureds of its election to use the Medicare fee schedules as required by Virtual Imaging. The trial court’s decision was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.

The cases cited are listed below for reference.

Allstate Fire and Casualty Ins. v. Stand-Up MRI of Tallahassee, Case No. 1D14-1213, et al., 1st DCA Fla. (March 18, 2015).

Geico Gen. Ins. Co. v. Virtual Imaging Servs. Inc., 141 So. 3d 147 (Fla. 2013).

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Filed under Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2012), The Statutory "Fee Schedules"

The 11th Judicial Circuit Court Issues Key Ruling in Health Care Clinic Licensure Case

On March 10, 2015, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County issued a ruling in favor of Imperial Fire & Casualty Insurance in a mandatory licensing (House Bill 119) case. The Court found that the charges submitted for Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits to Imperial Fire & Casualty, to be unlawful and thus, noncompensable pursuant to Florida’s Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law.

Imperial Fire & Casualty issued a policy of automobile insurance to the Insured under which the Defendant, Magic Hands Solutions Inc. sought payment. Magic Hands Solutions operated as a medical clinic and allegedly rendered medical treatment to the Insured who was injured in an automobile accident. Subsequently, Magic Hands Solutions submitted charges for payment of PIP benefits to Imperial Fire & Casualty. Magic Hands Solutions was advised that the claim submitted for PIP benefits was not payable because the clinic was not properly licensed pursuant to Section 627.736, Florida Statutes (2013).

In 2012, the Legislature required mandatory licensing for all clinics holding an exempt status, whether by issuance of Certificate of Exemption or self-determined, in order for clinics to receive reimbursement pursuant to the “PIP Statute.” Hence, a clinic must be licensed under Part X, Chapter 400 to receive reimbursement for PIP benefits, unless it qualifies for an exception listed in Section 627.736(5)(h).

The Court found that the Magic Hands Solutions being wholly owned by a license massage therapist does not qualify for any of the exceptions delineated in §627.736(5)(h)(1)-(6) and was required to obtain a Health Care Clinic license as a condition precedent to receiving reimbursement of PIP benefits.

As a result of Magic Hands Solutions’ failure to obtain a Health Care Clinic License, the Court found that the charges submitted were unlawful and thus, noncompensable pursuant to Florida’s Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law and that Imperial Fire & Casualty.

Imperial Fire & Casualty Insurance Company vs. Magic Hands Solution Inc., Case No. 2014-2211 CC 24 (01) (Fla. 11th Circuit March 10, 2015).

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Filed under Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008)

GEICO Prevails on Appeal in Case Involving $50K Typo

Bernadette Ryan was involved in a car accident in 2013 and sued her insurer, GEICO, based on the uninsured/underinsured motorist portion of her insurance policy. A rejected, pre-trial Proposal for Settlement for the $50,000 policy maximum stated that Ryan wanted:

“One Hundred Thousand Dollars ($50,000) inclusive of all costs and fees and in full and final settlement of all pending claims. The total amount of this settlement shall not exceed $50,000.”

The case proceeded to trial and the jury awarded Ryan $195,739.81. Because her damages award was more than 25% greater than the offer in the rejected Proposal for Settlement, Ryan filed a motion to tax costs and a motion to tax attorney’s fees pursuant to Florida Statute 768.79.

Noting the inconsistent dollar amounts in Ryan’s settlement document, GEICO argued at the hearing that the document was patently ambiguous. Ryan, on the other hand, insisted that GEICO knew “exactly what the proposal was for.”

Circuit Judge Dale Ross, while agreeing that confusion existed, nonetheless sided with Ryan and ruled that the “shall not exceed” clause cleared up the confusion. The judge then entered an order granting Ryan’s motions for attorney’s fees and to tax costs. GEICO appealed that order.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed with GEICO that the Proposal for Settlement was ambiguous and unenforceable and the trial court erred in enforcing it. The court therefore reversed the trial judge’s decision, saying, “The trial judge had no basis in law or fact to conclude otherwise.”

Click on the link to read the ruling of the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

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Filed under Case Law

Miami Health Care Fraud Scheme Results in 14 Arrests

A $13.9 million fraud scheme involving a network of medical clinics resulted in the arrest of 14 Miami-Dade County residents on March 11, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.

As readers of the FLPIPGuide.com know, our coverage of medical clinics typically relates to PIP fraud. In this case, however, the named medical clinics allegedly intended to defraud health care insurers and employer-sponsored plans.

The following individuals were charged with health care fraud and conspiracy to commit health care fraud in the case of United States v. Reyna/do Castillo, et al.:

  • Reynaldo Castillo, 46, Hialeah
  • Hendris Castillo Morales, 33, Miami
  • Lisbet Castillo, 23, Hialeah
  • Maite Garcia, 40, Hialeah
  • Osvaldo Marin Medina, 48, Hialeah
  • Alejandro Biart, 40, Miami
  • Alejandro Jesus Cura, 47, Miami
  • Dania Chavez, 43, Miami
  • Ezequiel Severo Casas, 28, Hialeah
  • Humberto Martinez Rodriguez, 43, Hialeah
  • Jose Gerardo Gonzalez, 23, Miami
  • Julio Suarez, 47, Miami
  • Nelson Ramos, 56, Miami
  • Reinaldo Cinta Gonzalez, 46, Miami
  • Rudy N. Dominguez, 25, Hialeah
  • Diulys Martinez, 39, Miami

As many as 30 medical clinics based in Miami, Hialeah, Hialeah Lakes, and Doral, Fla. were owned or controlled by Reynaldo Castillo, Hendris Castillo Morales, Lisbet Castillo Batista, and Maite Garcia, according to the indictment.

Physician names and licensing information obtained through medical staffing companies was allegedly misappropriated to conceal the actual clinic ownership. Additionally, some of the individuals charged were paid fees in exchange for the use of their names as fronts for corporate ownership, bank accounts, and check cashing privileges.

Insurance companies Cigna, Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS), and United Health Care (UHC) were affected by the scam. Several self-insured employers whose insurance plans were managed by the three carriers were also the target of fraud, including:

  • Miami-Dade Public Schools
  • City of Miami
  • Pepsi Co.
  • BJ’s Wholesale Club
  • Macy’s
  • Nextera Energy
  • Radioshack
  • Sodexo

False and fraudulent claims totaling $125.7 million were submitted to the insurance carriers and employer plans, of which $13.85 million was paid. Many of the claims were for treatments that were not ordered by a physician or services that were never delivered.

The indictment also alleges that Reynaldo Castillo, Lisbet Castillo Batista, and Hendris Castillo incorporated an investment company to receive proceeds from the clinics and used those proceeds to purchase real estate properties. Those properties are subject to criminal forfeiture.

In a companion case, United States v. Ernesto Castillo, Osvaldo Marin Medina, Alejandro Biart, Ernesto Castillo, 43, of Hialeah, and Danny Jacomino Bordon, 50, of Miami were charged with health care fraud for causing Amazing Medical Services, Inc., Serenity Rehabilitation Center, Inc., and World of Rehabilitation Therapy, Inc. to submit false claims to Cigna totaling approximately $5.1 million, which resulted in payments to the three companies of approximately $1.1 million.

Jose Gerardo Gonzalez, Reynaldo Castillo, Ezequiel Severo Casas, and Danny Jacomino Bordon remain at large.

Click on the link to read the news release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud

CFO Jeff Atwater Supports Fighting Fraud During 2015 Legislative Session

CFO Jeff Atwater supports the Health Care Clinic Proposed Legislation House Bill 1127 and Senate Bill 1306 that strengthen the Agency for Health Care Administration’s (“AHCA”) Health Care Clinic Act (“HCCA”). The proposed legislation:

  • Creates new certificate of exemption mandates for clinics exempted from mandatory licensure in HB 119 and criminal penalties for certain AHCA clinic violations;
  • Increases the number of crimes that may be investigated by the Division of Insurance Fraud;
  • Requires insurers to have SIU departments with specific requirements and establishes state oversight to help fight insurance fraud;
  • Creates additional criminal penalties for unlawful claims, whether paid or not.

Please click here to review the full summary.

For additional information you may visit http://www.flhouse.gov.

If you have any questions concerning this topic, please contact any member of the Roig Lawyers Insurance Services Group.

Contributing Authors:

MICHAEL A. ROSENBERG

MARK J. ROSE

MIGUEL R. ROURA

DENNIS LAROSA

 

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Filed under Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008)

Google Compare Auto Insurance Launches in California

As reported earlier in FLPIPGuide.com, recent rumors about Google entering the U.S. auto insurance market have proven to be true as the tech giant recently announced its launch of Google Compare Auto Insurance in California. A roll-out in more states is planned.

According to a recent article in Insurance Journal, Google calls its online price-comparison service a “seamless, intuitive experience for connecting with your customers online.”

A company-issued news release said, “Whether you’re a national insurance provider or one local to California, people searching for car insurance on their phone or computer can find you along with an apples-to-apples comparison of other providers all in as little as 5 minutes.”

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company indicates that participation in Google Compare is based on a flexible cost-per-acquisition model.  Payment is not a factor in ranking or eligibility, according to Google.

The Google Compare Auto Insurance portal is user-friendly, and lists a variety of carriers, including Mercury and MetLife, who are partners in the project. Californians simply enter their zip code to bring up a form that asks for basic information such as name and date of birth. There is also a “speed things up” autofill feature, especially convenient to those on Google’s Chrome browser. Visitors to the site are self-directed through screens, eventually resulting in quotes for auto insurance.

Google Compare Auto Insurance Services Inc. has been licensed to sell insurance in at least 26 states and could reportedly be working with CoverHound, which currently offers online quotes for multiple insurers including Hartford, esurance, 21st Century, Travelers, Safeco, National General, Progressive, Foremost, Plymouth Rock and others, Insurance Journal said.

The company intends to introduce ratings and reviews, as well as local agent support for providers with agent networks.

Google’s entry into the insurance market, along with its role in building autonomous vehicles, could make it a dominant player in the field. William R. Berkley, CEO of W.R. Berkley Corp., revealed in a management seminar presentation to independent agents in January that “Google has the capacity to change auto insurance” because of the competitive advantage it gained when the company invested a significant amount of money to “actively build a rule-road map of America.”

An article in TechCrunch reported that several major insurance carriers may be taking a wait-and-see approach, however.

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Filed under Uncategorized

Florida Leads the U.S. in Fraud and Related Complaints

Florida sweeps the nation, but not for an enviable title. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) put the Sunshine State at the top of its list for identity theft, fraud and related complaints.

The agency recently released its annual Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, which compiled complaints made by consumers to the FTC, state and federal law enforcement agencies, national consumer protection organizations, and non-governmental organizations from January–December 2014. In addition to national statistics, the report also breaks down data by state and metropolitan area.

No matter how you slice it, Florida was the top source of complaints per capita both for identity theft, and fraud and other related complaints out of the 2,582,851 complaints entered into the Consumer Sentinel Network last year. Florida also held the top spot in 2013.

From 50 U.S. metropolitan areas, Florida has 14 identified fraud hotspots, based on the number of complaints per 100,000 people. They include:

  • Homosassa Springs (ranked #2)
  • Jacksonville (ranked #11)
  • Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach (ranked #14)
  • Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville (ranked #15)
  • North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton (ranked #17)
  • Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater (ranked #18)
  • Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach (ranked #19)
  • Punta Gorda (ranked #22)
  • Gainesville (ranked #24)
  • Sebastian-Vero Beach (ranked #26)
  • Port St. Lucie (ranked #28)
  • Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford (ranked #30)
  • Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent (ranked #37)
  • Ocala (ranked #49)

The report also broke down the 30 worst categories of fraud reported nationwide. Identity theft was number one, followed by debt collection and imposter scams. Auto related fraud also made the top 10 on the list in 2014, coming in seventh.For those who investigate, detect and litigate fraudulent insurance claims, it’s not a big revelation that the lion’s share of fraudulent complaints transpire in Florida. A recent article in the Tampa Bay Times provides insight about factors that make the state so attractive for this type of activity:

  1. More temporary or transient residents having fewer strong connections to their communities.
  2. Resources stretched thin. Federal attention is focused on more critical issues, while state resources to investigate and prosecute fraud are limited to the most egregious cases.
  3. Fewer ways to scrutinize personal incomes due to no state income tax.
  4. A high concentration of seniors who receive Social Security, Medicare, and other retirement payments.

A reputation as a “second chance” state where many settle here to get back on track, but others still lapse into “old ways.” Al Scudieri, who spent 30 years as a special agent of the FBI, points out in the article, “Florida’s not only the third most populated, its population is different. I think we have a more affluent, elderly population. With a heavier concentration of those demographics in this state, they are the most susceptible.”

For an in-depth look at the statistics in Florida and nationwide, click on the link to view the FTC’s 2014 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud