Since the start of the new year, Governor Abbott has appointed six new members to the Texas Medical Board. The new members, whose terms are set to expire in April 2021, include five physicians and one public member. One of the new appointees, Sherif Zaafran, M.D., has also been named the Board’s new president. Dr. Zaafran, an anesthesiologist, takes over from Michael Arambula, M.D., Pharm.D., who has severed as the Board’s president for the last several years.

With such a sizable influx of new members and the appointment of a new Board president, it will be interesting to see whether there are any shifts in Board policy or disciplinary priorities. Some of the Medical Board’s most prominent initiatives over the last several years have been its ongoing legal battle over telemedicine, the regulation of medspas and non-surgical cosmetic procedures, and the continued crackdown on what the Board views as the non-therapeutic prescribing of pain medications. Whether these will continue to be a primary focus waits to be seen.

On a more individual level, the new Board members have been regularly appearing at informal settlement conferences. Our firm’s experience with the new appointees has been largely positive in this respect as the new members have been generally receptive to the responding physician’s arguments and attentive to the details of each case even if they do not always reach the decision we are advocating for on behalf of our clients. I am hopeful this trend continues.

As of the date of this post, the Board is also still searching for a new Executive Director. The prior Executive Director, Mari Robinson, had a lengthy tenure with the Board and always appeared to play a strong role in the development and implementation of Board policy. Since Ms. Robinson’s departure last year, the Board’s General Counsel, Scott Freshour, has served as the Interim Executive Director. I anticipate any changes in the Board’s broader policies will begin to take shape once they have selected Ms. Robinson’s permanent successor. 

 

It should go without saying given the Texas Medical Board’s recent aggressive regulatory stance on the treatment of chronic pain, Texas physicians involved in the practice of testosterone and hormone replacement therapy should be made aware of a discussion by the Board at a recent Board meeting regarding a U.S. Food and Drug Association (FDA) safety announcement.

On January 31, 2014, the FDA issued a safety announcement alerting the public the FDA was investigating the risk of stroke, heart attack, and death in men taking FDA-approved testosterone products. The FDA stated that although it had been monitoring risks related to testosterone products and decided to reassess this safety issue based on the recent publication of two separate studies suggesting an increased risk of cardiovascular events among groups of men prescribed testosterone therapy.

To be clear, the FDA safety announcement stressed the FDA had not concluded FDA-approved testosterone products increased the risk of stroke, heart attack, or death or that patients should stop taking prescribed testosterone products. The Texas Medical Board’s discussions on these issues focused on relevant Board rules regarding standards for physicians practicing complementary and alternative medicine, including requirements of patient assessment, disclosure of expected outcomes, risks and benefits of treatment, a documented treatment plan with periodic review, adequate medical records, and therapeutic validity. The Board also discussed potential disciplinary issues with testosterone therapy which could arise with the “off-label” use of testosterone if the physician did not provide and obtain proper informed consent for off-label use or if the physician did not discuss the benefits weighed against possible risks of the therapy.

Because of the Board’s interest in this particular topic, Texas physicians in the field of testosterone or hormone replacement need to be hyper-vigilant in keeping proper consents and documentation, and keeping apprised of the relevant Board rules.   The attorneys at the Leichter Law Firm have aided numerous Texas physicians to implement best practices.  If the attention has shifted to you and you have an investigation or legal case pending before the Texas Medical Board, and want a knowledgeable administrative law attorney with experience working with the Board and its members, please call the attorneys at the Leichter Law Firm for a free consultation at 512-495-9995.

 

The National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) is the non-profit, non-governmental organization that facilitates the annual “match” between medical students and residency programs. Created in 1952, it was implemented to make the process more streamlined, and initially to ease the competition between programs in filling available positions. While it has changed over the years, the NRMP employs a matching algorithm to match qualified students and programs together. Taking part in the match process requires both the program and the student to enter into a Match Participation Agreement with the NRMP that makes the NRMP’s match a binding commitment. Neither the program, nor the student, can unilaterally break the match, though either party can apply for a waiver of the binding commitment if either side can demonstrate serious or extreme hardship as a result of the match.   

The Match Participation Agreement also designates conduct that constitutes a violation of the agreement, and for those violations, the NRMP can impose some very serious penalties. For example, any incident decided to be a violation by the NRMP will result in a Final Report detailing the participant’s transgressions, which is sent to the applicant’s medical school, the American Board of Medical Specialties, the residency program, the Federation of State Medical Boards, and others. Other possible penalties include being barred from participating in future NRMP Matches for up to three years, or being barred from accepting a position with any residency program that participates in the NRMP Match. For medical students, the Match is just about the only game in town, especially for M.D.’s, and a prohibition from participating in the Match, or from accepting positions in Match-associated programs, has the potential to throw a giant wrench into one’s medical career just as it is getting started. 

The best way to avoid such consequences is to avoid violations of the Match Participation Agreement, which include: failure to provide complete, timely and accurate information during the match process; attempts to subvert the match process; failure to accept an appointment; and any other irregular behavior. The issues that we come across most frequently are an applicant’s alleged failure to provide complete, timely, and accurate information relating to disciplinary action that they faced at some point in their medical education.   If a residency program makes a fuss about the completeness of an applicant’s disclosures, the NRMP can use their broadly worded Agreement to initiate an investigation. As we stated above, the consequences can be great, including banning an applicant from the Match for a term of years (or life), or decreeing that the applicant cannot take a position with a program that participates in the Match.   

If you are a physician Match-applicant who has run afoul of the NRMP, please consider hiring an experienced healthcare law attorney to assist you. The consequences of NRMP sanctions can be great, especially at this formative stage in your career. Contact the healthcare law attorneys at the Leichter Law Firm, PC, at (512) 495-9995.

 

 

Given the Texas Medical Board’s increasing use of temporary suspension hearings it would be helpful to understand  what repercussions those hearings entail. As we shall see, a temporary suspension not only affects a physician’s medical license it may also affect his Medicare billing privileges and DEA controlled substances registration. A temporary suspension hearing may have been preceded by a temporary suspension without notice. A temporary suspension without notice is essentially a shoot first ask questions later proceeding. The Texas Medical Board first suspends the MD or DO and then later schedules a hearing pending which the physician remains unable to practice. While we strongly recommend that physicians always have legal representation during temporary suspension proceedings, we believe even physicians who are currently temporarily suspended may benefit from legal representation to mitigate the secondary effects.   

Consequences to a physician’s Medicare billing privileges and DEA registration as a result of a without notice temporary suspension proceeding:

As a result of a temporary suspension hearing without notice, the physician’s license will be suspended leaving the physician unable to practice medicine. However, this suspension will only be in effect until a temporary suspension with notice hearing. At this subsequent hearing a panel of the Texas Medical Board may vote to reinstate the physician’s license finding that the evidence is not sufficient to continue the suspension. In the meanwhile, however, the practitioner may still lose his Medicare billing privileges or DEA registration because of the suspension. 

A provider is required under the Medicare regulations to report "any adverse legal action" within 30 days. However, there is a good faith argument to be made that the legal action to be reported must be final and unappealable. A temporary suspension without notice is certainly not a final determination as there must be a subsequent temporary suspension with notice hearing. Additionally it should be noted that the suspension of a medical license is only a "permissive" ground for Medicare exclusion. The physician is not mandatorily excluded from Medicare. An administrative lawyer well versed in Medicare regulations would be helpful in avoiding this undue exclusion during a temporary suspension.

 The DEA is likewise entitled to revoke a person’s DEA controlled substances registration if their medical license has been suspended or revoked. But, as described above, the temporary suspension without notice is short in duration because of the required temporary suspension with notice hearing.  An administrative lawyer can similarly forestall the suspension or revocation of a physician’s registration based on a thorough understanding of the Medical Practice Act’s temporary suspension proceedings.

Repercussions on a physician’s Medicare billing privileges and DEA registration as a result of a suspension with notice hearing.

 After a with-notice hearing the temporary suspension can remain in place for an extended period of time, sometimes over a year. At this point, both Medicare and the DEA may exercise their statutory discretion and rescind the physician’s privileges. However, because the revocation of the physician’s privileges is still not mandatory, a skilled administrative attorney can find a legal basis to maintain the practitioner’s privileges. 

For instance, the physician may appeal the temporary suspension to a Texas district court. This would prevent the temporary suspension from becoming final as it would still be subject to possible reversal. If a physician’s case is particularly strong, he may even move to enjoin the Texas Medical Board from enforcing the temporary suspension pending a final decision. This means that the temporary suspension would no longer have effect and the physician could continue to practice medicine in the interim. If the physician is thus "unsuspended," Medicare and the DEA lose their ability to revoke the physician’s privileges on the grounds that his medical license is suspended. However, these agencies may still institute their own separate investigations and disciplinary proceedings against the physician to independently find grounds to revoke or refuse to renew his privileges. 

A temporary suspension by the Texas Medical Board can have grave consequences for the physician’s Medicare and DEA privileges. Physicians should retain legal representation for the temporary suspension proceedings; However, even after a temporary suspension, a physician should seek legal help from an administrative lawyer to mitigate the secondary damage such as the revocation of Medicare privileges and DEA registration. The lawyer must be familiar with both the Texas Medical Practice Act and the federal statutes and regulations governing Medicare and DEA privileges. 

Our Leichter Law Firm physician licensing defense lawyers have exactly such experience and have been successful in obtaining injunctions against temporary suspensions and forestalling Medicare and DEA revocations. If you are facing temporary suspension or are suffering its aftermath please contact us at (512) 495-9995 to schedule your initial consultation.

 

 

Given the current aggressive regulatory climate surrounding the treatment of chronic pain, it is worthwhile to look back and understand how the applicable law developed prior to the Legislature’s empowerment of the Texas Medical Board to oversee registered pain clinics in 2011. This prior law, including the Intractable Pain Treatment Act, was designed to safeguard physicians who treat chronic pain while remaining within the standard of care. It has been my experience as an attorney representing numerous physicians, mid-level providers, and pharmacies, that this prior law has largely been either forgotten or eroded to the point it no longer provides real protection to medical professionals.

The Intractable Pain Treatment Act (IPTA),  separate from the Medical Practice Act, is codified at Chapter 107, Texas Occupation Code, and was intended to provide physicians with a safe harbor in prescribing controlled substances and dangerous drugs to treat pain. In this post we provide a background of this Act and its current relevance, or lack thereof, in the practice of medicine. 

The Intractable Pain Treatment Act was passed in 1989 to deal with the problem that physicians were being disciplined by the Texas Medical Board because the Board refused to distinguish habitual users of narcotic drugs from patients with genuine medical needs. Prior to the passage of the IPTA, the Medical Practice Act allowed the Texas Medical Board, known at that time as the Texas Board of Medical Examiners, to discipline physicians for prescribing controlled substances or dangerous drugs to a person "known to be habitual users of narcotic drugs, controlled substances, or dangerous drugs or to a person who the physician should have known was a habitual user of the drugs." This phrasing of the Medical Practice Act made patients taking opioids to alleviate genuine suffering "habitual users." Accordingly, physicians prescribing pain medication to cancer patients were subject to disciplinary action by the Board. Such was the effect that physicians refused to prescribe these therapeutic drugs and hospitals refused to let physicians prescribe them on the premises. 

The Intractable Pain Act of 1989 sought to rectify this basic problem by protecting physicians from Texas Medical Board discipline if they prescribed the medication for "intractable pain."   Intractable pain is defined as pain the cause of which cannot be removed, treated, or cured. The IPTA also prohibited hospitals from restricting credentialed physicians from prescribing pain medications for intractable pain. 

In 1993 the Legislature modified the Medical Practice Act to prohibit doctors from prescribing to a person who was a known "abuser" of controlled medications. In 1996 the Legislature amended the Intractable Pain Act to allow physicians to prescribe controlled medication even to such abusers as long as the medication was strictly for the management of their diagnosed pain which the physician had a duty to monitor. The physician was also required to document the understanding between the doctor and the patient and to consult with an addiction specialist as appropriate. These restrictions were only required when dealing with patients who were drug abusers or had a history of drug abuse. 

In its final form the IPTA was meant to provide a safe harbor for Texas doctors who treated long-term pain provided the controlled medications they prescribed were actually for an underlying pain condition. This safe harbor protects physicians who treat known drug abusers for intractable pain provided they monitor the patient and consult with the appropriate mental health expert. Yet the protections of the safe harbor are slight; by the Act’s own terms, the Texas Medical Board can still discipline physicians if they prescribe non-therapeutically or prescribe in a manner inconsistent with the public welfare.  

The safe harbor provision provided by the Intractable Pain Treatment Act has been recognized, albeit modified, by the Board in its pain management rules codified at Chapter 170, Title 22 Texas Administrative Code. The rules recognize that pain treatment is a vital and integral part of the practice of medicine and that doctors should be able to treat pain using sound clinical judgment without the fear of disciplinary action from the Texas Medical Board. Yet, the rules go on to list several actions that should be involved in the treatment of chronic pain including the formulation of a pain management contract requiring random drug screening.

From the rules it is apparent that whereas the Intractable Pain Treatment Act required heightened monitoring and more rigorous documentation merely for known drug abusers, the Board’s most recent rules make that standard applicable to all long-term pain management patients. While the rules do call themselves "guidelines" it should be noted that the Texas Medical Board will allow deviation from the guidelines only if the physician’s rational for treatment indicates sound clinical judgment documented in the medical records.

Continue Reading The Texas Intractable Pain Treatment Act And Chronic Pain

 

As we reported earlier this month, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) along with several state agencies, including the Texas Medical Board (TMB) and Texas State Board of Pharmacy (TSBP), has been increasingly active in Houston over the past few months. More than ever before, the joint state and federal taskforce has taken a scorched earth approach to the battle against alleged “pill mills.” The taskforce has generally shown up at clinics and pharmacies unannounced, seizing records and equipment, and demanding surrender of the practitioner’s DEA prescribing registration. The practitioners targeted by this task force and these methods are not just notorious “pill mill” doctors and pharmacies, but also a large number of legitimate pain management physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and pharmacies that just happen to be operating at ground zero of the war on prescription drugs. The net has been cast wide, and many practitioners are finding themselves in need of competent and experienced legal representation.

A Surge in Temporary Suspensions on the Horizon:

Many of the physicians or physician assistants that have any present or past association with these raided clinics are finding themselves the target of Temporary Suspension proceedings by the Texas Medical Board, based solely on their association with an alleged “pill mill”. We have received numerous calls over the last few weeks from physicians and physician assistants who have received notice of Temporary Suspension proceedings and are seeking the services of professional license defense lawyers. The Texas Secretary of State’s website currently lists eight Temporary Suspension hearings to be heard by the Medical Board just next week. 

Temporary Suspension proceedings are initiated when Medical Board staff believes they have evidence sufficient to prove that the licensee’s continued practice constitutes a continuing threat to the public welfare (See Occupations Code, Section 164.059(b)). If after a Temporary Suspension hearing, the Disciplinary Panel, made up of Medical Board members, decides that Medical Board staff has indeed presented evidence sufficient to prove that the licensee constitutes a continuing threat, then that licensee’s license is suspended that very day. As such, there is a great deal at stake for any licensee that finds themselves in that position, and the benefit of hiring an attorney well-versed in medical license defense should be clear. 

The Board’s Temporary Suspension remedy has traditionally been used sparingly, due to its severe impact on a licensee’s career, and due to the sizeable burden that Medical Board staff shoulders in proving that a licensee is a continuing threat to public welfare. The wave of Temporary Suspensions that the Board currently has scheduled represents a significant departure from that thinking. The commonalities in these cases are that the practitioners have some connection, either present or past, with a pain management clinic that has been targeted by the DEA taskforce. The licensee may be a physician who was serving as a part-time supervising physician or medical director. The licensee may be a physician assistant that worked in the clinic on a contract basis. Whatever the association, Medical Board staff’s theory of prosecution equates any association with an alleged “pill mill” to a continuing threat to the public, and often the evidence that they are using to show a continuing threat is equally as thin. However, if a licensee is not equipped to challenge Medical Board staff’s evidence and legal theories, it is likely that the Medical Board panel will find with Board staff. 

What should you do if you receive notice of a Temporary Suspension hearing?

You should hire an attorney immediately upon being noticed of a Temporary Suspension hearing in front of the Texas Medical Board for several reasons.   

First, you are most likely not equipped to represent yourself in a contested hearing in front of the Texas Medical Board. The disciplinary process at the Board is not intuitive and Temporary Suspension proceedings are particularly quirky. It is to your benefit to hire someone that is capable of putting on a cohesive defense that will include preparing and presenting documentary evidence, putting on witness testimony, cross-examining Board staff’s witnesses, and zealously advocating on your behalf. 

Second, the Medical Board is only required to give you 10-days notice by Board rule (Texas Administrative Code, Title 22, Chapter 187.60(2)). This is a very limited amount of time to put together a strong and comprehensive defense. The best way to combat this challenge is to hire a lawyer that is capable of preparing a defense under these conditions, and to hire them immediately, so as to not waste time. 

Third and finally, you should seek legal counsel and potentially hire an attorney because there is a great deal at stake with a Temporary Suspension hearing. It is nothing to be taken lightly. Your ability to practice under your license in the short term is in jeopardy, as is your future practice. A temporary suspension is on your public record forever, and its existence will definitely require explanation, and could potentially cost you opportunities in the future.       

Conclusion:

If you receive a visit from the DEA taskforce or you are given notice of a Temporary Suspension hearing from the Texas Medical Board or Texas State Board of Pharmacy, please do not hesitate to contact the professional medical license defense attorneys at the Leichter Law Firm. You need the guidance of an attorney that is experienced in medical licensing law, including cases dealing with allegations of non-therapeutic prescribing and prescription drug diversion, as well as the potential criminal ramifications. The Leichter Law Firm’s attorneys have represented clients in similar circumstances and have gained positive results for our clients. Give us a call at (512) 495-9995 or submit an inquiry through our website at http://www.leichterlaw.com/ for a free consultation. 

 

Since the summer of 2011, the Texas Medical Board has been considering adopting a new rule applicable to non-surgical, cosmetic procedures such as Botox or dermal filler injections. The proposal would create new standards and requirements applicable to physicians who perform or delegate the performance of such procedures. Currently, this area is covered by Chapter 157 of the Medical Practice Act which governs a physician’s ability to delegate the performance of medical acts to a non-physician. This includes a person who is not licensed, such as a medical assistant, and individuals who are licensed but are not allowed to diagnose illness or create a treatment plan, such as a cosmetologist.

Underlying the Texas Medical Board’s initiative is a concern that physicians have not been exercising sufficient control and supervision over the unlicensed persons performing delegated non-surgical, cosmetic medical acts. This includes allowing an unlicensed person to determine the need for the cosmetic procedure as well as deciding how this procedure was to be performed- i.e. how many Botox units to use and the selection of injection sites. In the reports submitted to the Board Committee drafting the new rule, Medical Board Staff have argued that this constitutes the unlicensed practice medicine.

Prior to the initial stakeholder’s meeting weighing in on a proposed rule, the attorneys at my firm had represented a physician who had delegated filler injections to a medical assistant. The Board invited our client to an informal conference to address allegations that this constituted improper supervision and delegation. Based on our argument that the physician’s actions were proper under Chapter 157’s delegation provisions, the Texas Medical Board closed the case and convened the stakeholder’s meeting.

The current version of the proposed rule would supplement the present requirements for physician delegation found in Chapter 157. The main change is a mandate that any patient receiving a non-surgical, cosmetic procedure must first be assessed and examined by the physician or, in the alternative, a midlevel practitioner acting under the delegation of the physician. The physician or midlevel practitioner is then responsible for establishing a diagnosis, obtaining the patient’s informed consent, and preparing a treatment plan. Under the present law, a non-physician can arguably perform many of these functions as long as it is closely delineated by standing delegation orders and protocols developed by the physician.

The Texas Medical Board’s proposed new rule also requires that either the physician or a midlevel practitioner be on-site during the performance of any delegated procedures. Additionally, the supervising physician is required to develop and maintain detailed protocols governing their delegates and must also create a quality assurance program satisfying various criteria. Importantly, the proposed rule makes clear the physician retains ultimate responsibility for the safety of the patient and the proper performance of the procedure.  

Several exemptions are located in the rule: These include laser hair removal performed in accordance with the Texas Health and Safety Code, the use of nonprescription devices, surgery as defined in the Medical Practice Act, and procedures performed by midlevel practitioners at their supervising physician’s primary practice site.

Although the rule has not yet been accepted by the Medical Board, I anticipate it will eventually be adopted. This has been a hot topic lately and it is clear the existing law is not satisfactory to both the Board’s Members and Staff. Physicians and unlicensed individuals performing these types of procedures need to be aware of the new rule and poised to ensure they are in compliance when and if it is enacted.

The Texas Medical Board aggressively pursues perceived violations in this area and I would only expect this to increase should the rule be adopted. My firm recently represented a licensed cosmetologist who was issued a Cease and Desist Order by the Board based on their belief my client was practicing medicine in the course of providing Botox injections due to inadequate oversight by her supervising physician. Attorneys at the Leichter Law Firm filed an appeal against the Order and the Texas Medical Board agreed to rescind it based on inadequate notice to our client. Currently, the matter is expected to proceed to a new cease and desist hearing.

Physicians and their delegates concerned about remaining in compliance with both the current law and proposed new rule should feel free to contact the Leichter Law Firm at 512-495-9995. We have assisted several other clients in this area some of which faced active cases with the Texas Medical Board and others who only wanted to ensure their protocols and procedures passed muster.

 

Physicians that treat chronic pain patients or prescribe a large volume of narcotic pain medications ought to be increasingly aware of the pressure that is being exerted by the Texas Medical Board, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and their multi-agency task force. We have drawn attention to the crackdown on alleged “pill mills” and alleged non-therapeutic prescribing on this very blog. Likewise, we have previously highlighted the pain clinic legislation that allows the Medical Board to monitor those practices more closely (see Occ. Code Sec. 167 and Board Rules Sec. 195). The physicians who have been found in violation of these laws, have felt the negative impact on their ability to practice- loss of their DEA controlled substance certification, restrictions on their practice, and/or revocation of their medical license. In fact, our attorneys have successfully represented many physicians, as well as other health care professionals, who have been targeted as part of this combined state and federal initiative.

More recently, the State of Texas has started charging these same physicians criminally, meaning potential felony convictions and lengthy prison sentences. The State’s legal theory is that Texas Occupations Code sec. 165.152 allows them to charge these violations of the Medical Practice Act (Act) as a third degree Felony. The most troubling implication of the State’s legal theory, however, is that if it is accurate Texas prosecutors could conceivably bring felony charges for any violation of the Medical Practice Act, no matter how insignificant. The State’s legal argument has not yet been challenged in court, but we believe that it does not hold up upon review of the statutes.

It might help to set up a quick factual scenario similar to those we have seen recently. A physician takes a position with a clinic, whose clientele are at least 50% chronic pain patients. In order to comply with Occupations Code Sec. 167, the clinic must obtain a pain clinic certification from the Texas Medical Board. The physician applies for and receives the pain clinic certification. However, according to Board rule 195.2(a)(1), the certification can only be held by the clinic’s owner, and since this physician is not the owner of the clinic, he is in violation of the Act. If it correct that the criminal liability provisions of the Texas Medical Practice Act treat any violation of the Act as a felony criminal offense, then this physician could now be charged and prosecuted for a third degree felony by the State of Texas. In fact, this exact scenario is currently playing out in one Texas’ largest metropolitan areas.

The State’s belief that virtually any violation of the Texas Medical Practice Act can be classified as a felony is not borne out by a reading of the applicable statutes. Section 165 of the Act sets out the penalties for violations of the Act and Board rules. Criminal penalties for violations of the Act are set out in Subchapter D. There is a general criminal penalty statute (see Occ. Code Sec. 165.151) that states that any violation of the Act is a criminal offense, but if further states that if no penalty is specified, the offense constitutes a Class A misdemeanor. A thorough review of the pain clinic certification statute and rules do not specify a criminal penalty. It follows that, if the State wants to criminally charge that Texas physician for violating the Act, the only offense available is a Class a misdemeanor. Then how can the State charge a physician who violates the above statute with a third degree Felony?

The State has found their authority in the statute that directly follows, Occupations Code Sec. 166.152, which states that a person commits an offense if the person practices medicine in Texas in violation of this subtitle, and further states that the offense for such is a Felony of the third degree. If read out of the context, this statute would justify the State’s prosecution; the physician practiced in violation the Act and this offense constitutes a Felony. However, there are multiple problems with that reading of the statute, and the context and intent of the legislature do not support the State’s legal theory. 

First, the offense that Occupations Code Sec. 166.152 has historically referred to is the practice of medicine without a license- not just any violation of the Act. Thus this section has traditionally been targeted against unlicensed individuals who hold themselves out as physicians. There is no precedent for the State’s broad reading of the statute, and it is clear that the Legislature never intended it to be read that way. Senate Bill 1303 that eventually became this statute even contained a preamble that read “An Act relating to the practice of medicine, including the rehabilitation of impaired physicians and the unlicensed practice of medicine; providing a penalty” (my italics). The reading of Sec. 166.152 in context makes it clear that the Legislature was not looking to make every violation a felony, but rather to criminalize the unauthorized, unlicensed practice of medicine.    

Second, if Occupations Code Sec. 166.152 could be read to make any violation of the Act a third degree Felony, then any physician who fails to timely change their mailing address with the Board (Board rule 166.1(d)) or complete their 48 hours of continuing medical education every two years (Board rule 166.2) could be charged with a Felony for the violation. This ludicrous result underscores the States faulty legal theory. This absolutely could not be the Legislature’s intent when writing the statute, and of course we would argue that it was not.   

Third, the context of Occupations Code Sec. 166.152 does not support the State’s reading. As I noted previously, there is a general criminal penalty statute directly preceding it, Section 166.151, which states that any violation of the Act constitutes a Class A misdemeanor if the penalty is not specified. If Section 166.152 could be read to broadly state that any violation of the Act is a third degree Felony, then the preceding statute 166.151 would be either contradictory or unnecessary.

In conclusion, the pending felony prosecutions under this legal theory are very problematic. If left unchallenged, they subject the defendant physicians to criminal penalties far more serious than restrictions on their medical practice. The possible implications of this development should seriously disturb any physician practicing in Texas. But, I believe that the State’s legal theory is weak and subject to challenge by attorneys who understand the Medical Practice Act and administrative law statutes the State is relying on. Unfortunately, a single case poorly argued could set a bad precedent for other districts. If you are a Texas physician who is facing discipline by the Texas Medical Board and related potential criminal prosecution, please contact the attorneys at the Leichter Law Firm for a consultation. 512-495-9995. 

 

The Texas Medical Board has a new method of resolving outstanding investigations, courtesy of the 2011 legislative session- the Remedial Plan. If you are a physician with an investigation pending before the Medical Board, you may very well encounter the Remedial Plan. They are being offered frequently. In some cases that will be good news , but contrary to how Board staff may sell it, the Remedial Plan is not suited for everyone. 

Let me give an overview of the Remedial Plan. The Board terms the Remedial Plan as a non-disciplinary order. It cannot be offered in instances where the complaint concerns a patient death, commission of a felony, or an instance where a physician becomes sexually, financially, or personally involved with a patient in an inappropriate manner. The Remedial Plan also cannot assess an administrative penalty, or revoke, suspend, limit or restrict a person’s license. Typically the Remedial Plans include continuing education and/or the requirement to take the Jurisprudence Exam. They also could include non-restrictive terms like a physician chart monitor, and they virtually always carry a $500 administration fee.

Despite the limitations on when a Remedial Plan can be offered, there are still many circumstances that qualify, and this is borne out in how frequently Board disciplinary panels are offering them. They are being offered before Informal Settlement Conferences (ISC) in an attempt to forgo the need to hold a hearing. They are also being offered at ISC’s in lieu of other discipline. This all sounds like good news. It is a “non-disciplinary” order after all. However, one corresponding trend that does concern me, as an attorney that is now encountering these Remedial Plans quite frequently, is that Panels are offering Remedial Plans in circumstances where they otherwise would have dismissed the case entirely. The Board Panels feel too comfortable offering the Remedial Plan because it is “non-disciplinary.” It seems the Board Panel can justify offering a Remedial Plan in instances where they could not otherwise justify disciplinary action. 

 

Continue Reading The Texas Medical Board’s Remedial Plan -is it really a non-disciplinary order?

 

Over the past several weeks there has been an onslaught of temporary suspensions by the Texas Medical Board and Texas State Board of Pharmacy targeting Houston area physicians and pharmacists. These emergency suspensions have all stemmed from the joint state and federal task force combing Harris County for the non-therapeutic prescribing and dispensing of medications commonly used to treat chronic pain: primarily hydrocodone, soma, xanax, and klonopin. Presently, there is no sign that this barrage of suspensions will let up.

Most of the physicians, pharmacists, and pharmacies which have been temporarily suspended seem to have been selected because they have already been arrested or otherwise targeted by the Harris County task force. Moreover, many of these individuals have appeared in local media coverage of the crackdown. Temporary suspensions by the Medical and Pharmacy Board only allow for short notice to the affected practitioner meaning the licensee has little chance to prepare their defense.

Moreover, it has been my firm’s experience with such suspensions that the licensee faces an uphill battle as the deciding panel is made up of three Board members, not an independent judge unaffiliated with the prosecuting agency. Generally speaking, such Board panels accept Board Staff’s claims and evidence at face value particularly when the practitioner has been arrested or the subject of media attention. The evidence presented in such hearings is usually the testimony of DEA agents or local law enforcement who have been involved in the case. Oftentimes, this involves testimony from an undercover officer who received pain medication from a physician after falsely telling the practitioner they suffer from chronic pain and undergoing an assessment in conformance with the Medical Board’s rules on pain management. It is unclear how this constitutes non-therapeutic prescribing as the physician is essentially being lied to by the undercover agent. A Houston pharmacist was likewise recently suspended based merely on the number of pain prescriptions dispensed by their pharmacy as well as the accidental early filling of a single prescription presented by an undercover officer.

Again, the evidence presented is often flimsy at best and likely would not result in an emergency suspension were the matter before an independent administrative law judge. Simply because a licensee has been arrested does not mean the unproven charges will result in a criminal conviction. The unfortunate result of the current approach by the Medical and Pharmacy Board is the suspension of innocent pharmacists and physicians along with those knowingly engaged in the provision of illegitimate pain medication.

A temporary suspension will dramatically impact a practitioner’s career and remain a part of their permanent licensure record. Additionally, if the licensee is a physician a report will be generated with the National Practitioner Data Bank and remain there indefinitely. Once a physician or pharmacist is temporarily suspended their only recourse to overturn the suspension is to appeal the case to District Court in Travis County, a process which is neither timely nor inexpensive.

Legally speaking, the temporary suspension of a physician’s or pharmacist’s license is meant to be an extraordinary remedy designed to immediately remove such individuals from practice due to an imminent danger to the public were they allowed to continue working. Regrettably, it appears as though many of the persons who have been temporarily suspended in the past few weeks have legitimate defenses to the charges levied by their respective Boards. Any physician or pharmacist who receives notice of a temporary suspension hearing should contact an attorney immediately as there will be little time to prepare and a negative result could cause irreparable harm to their career and reputation.