Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Health Law
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Young, diagnosed with emphysema in 2002, had worked in coal mines for 19 years, retiring from Island Creek Coal in 1999. During and after work, Young would often cough up coal dust. For 35 years, Young smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day. Young sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 902(b). Because Young had worked for at least 15 years as a coal miner and was totally disabled by his lung impairment, he enjoyed a statutory presumption that his disability was due to pneumoconiosis. If Young was entitled to benefits, Island Creek, Young’s last coal-mine employer, would be liable. After reviewing medical reports, the ALJ awarded benefits. The Benefits Review Board affirmed, noting that if there was any error in the ALJ’s recitation of the standard, that error was harmless. The Sixth Circuit denied a petition for review, first rejecting an Appointments Clause challenge as waived. The ALJ did not err by applying an “in part” standard in determining whether Island Creek rebutted the presumption that Young has legal pneumoconiosis. To rebut the “in part” standard, an employer must show that coal-mine exposure had no more than a de minimis impact on a miner’s lung impairment. The ALJ reasonably weighed the medical opinions and provided thorough explanations for his credibility determinations. View "Island Creek Coal Co. v. Young" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Dr. Chalhoub of defrauding health care benefit programs under 18 U.S.C. 1347. A Kentucky cardiologist, Chalhoub implanted permanent pacemakers in patients who did not need the devices or the tests that he ordered before and after surgery. On appeal, Chalhoub claimed that the district court repeatedly admitted evidence unduly prejudicial to him—and to which he could not effectively respond. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, acknowledging that “some of the government’s tactics here leave something to be desired.” Noting Chaloub’s failure to cross-examine, the court rejected a due process challenge to the admission of testimony by a doctor who claimed to have examined 20 of former Chaloub’s patients but could not name those patients. Chalhoub was not denied a right to be heard and the government did not base its case solely on allegations about those 20 victims. Chalhoub argued that he was severely prejudiced by testimony that he misbilled insurers for other unspecified procedures, but he did not seek clarification or additional information at trial. The court upheld the admission of testimony about Chaloub’s income and expenditures and testimony about his installation of a pacemaker in a former patient. View "United States v. Chalhoub" on Justia Law

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Three out of every five hospitals use Ciox, a medical records provider, which processed 4.3 million pages per day in 2018. Ciox is subject to the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), 110 Stat. 1936. Department of Health and Human Service fee-limit provisions prohibit Ciox from charging patients more than “reasonable, cost-based fee[s]” for their records. Tennessee’s Medical Records Act (TMRA), prevents hospitals from charging patients more than the “reasonable costs for copying and the actual costs of mailing [their] records.” The named Plaintiffs worked with law firms to request their medical records from Tennessee hospitals. Ciox serviced those requests. Plaintiffs filed a class action, accusing Ciox of charging them more than what HIPAA regulations and TMRA allow. HIPAA does not authorize a private cause of action, so the Plaintiffs cited common-law causes of action: negligence, negligence per se, unjust enrichment, and breach of implied-in-law contract. The district court dismissed the TMRA claim but granted class certification and later granted Ciox summary judgment The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Tennessee's common law is no substitute for the private right of action that Congress refused to create in HIPAA. TMRA’s fee limits unambiguously do not apply to medical-records providers. Plaintiffs cannot prove the existence of any common-law duty or legal contract. Because the court did not send notice to absentee class members, the decision binds only the named Plaintiffs. View "Faber v. Ciox Health, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts, Health Law
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In 2011-2012, Godofsky was a doctor at a “pill mill,” the Central Kentucky Bariatric and Pain Management clinic. The clinic accepted payment by only cash (later by debit card), at $300 for the first visit and $250 per visit thereafter, and did not give change. The clinic had thousands of dollars in cash on hand every day, so the manager was armed with a handgun and patrolled the clinic with a German Shepherd. The clinic scheduled multiple “patients” at the same time, every 15 minutes, and was often open until after 10:00 p.m. The clinic received hundreds of “patients” per day, many of whom had traveled long distances and waited for hours for a few minutes with a doctor who would then provide a prescription for a large amount of opioids, usually oxycodone. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Godofsky’s conviction for prescribing controlled substances, 21 U.S.C. 841(a), and the below-guidelines 60-month prison term and $500,000 fine, upholding the trial court’s refusal to use a jury instruction titled “Good Faith,” which would have instructed the jurors that his “good intentions” were enough for his acquittal or, rather, that the prosecutor had to prove that he had not personally, subjectively, believed that the oxycodone prescriptions would benefit his patients. View "United States v. Godofsky" on Justia Law

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Tennessee family medicine physicians, mostly in rural areas, received increased Medicaid payments in 2013-2014. In 2015 Tennessee’s Medicaid agency, TennCare, brought an administrative action to “recoup” an average of more than $100,000 per physician, alleging that the physicians had not met the 60-percent requirement of the Final Medicaid Payment Rule. Under 42 U.S.C. 13961(a)(13(C), a state plan for medical assistance must provide payment for primary care services furnished in 2013 and 2014 by a physician with a primary specialty designation of family medicine, general internal medicine, or pediatric medicine at a specified rate; “primary specialty designation” was interpreted to mandate that the physician either show board certification in that specialty or that 60 percent of her recent Medicaid billings were for certain primary care services. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the physicians, declaring the Rule invalid. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services interpreted “a physician with a primary specialty designation” to have different meanings in parallel provisions of the Affordable Care Act although the context was the same. There is no 60-percent-of-billings requirement in 42 U.S.C. 1396a(a). The phrase “a physician with a primary specialty designation” means in section 1396a(a) the same thing that the agency said it means in section 1395l(x): a physician who has himself designated, as his primary specialty, one of the specialties recited in those provisions. View "Averett v. United States Department of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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Doe is HIV-positive and takes Genvoya to control his condition. Doe's BlueCross health insurance covers Genvoya. After February 2017, BlueCross required Doe to fill the HIV prescription through mail order or by picking it up at certain brick-and-mortar pharmacies. If Doe used BlueCross's specialty pharmacy network, his co-pay for each monthly batch of Genvoya would be $120. If Doe continued to get the medicine at his local pharmacy, he would have to pay the full cost, thousands of dollars per batch. Doe preferred interacting with his regular pharmacists, who knew his medical history and could spot the effects of harmful drug interactions. He also worried that deliveries to his house might compromise his privacy or risk heat damage to the medicine. Doe filed a putative class action, alleging that BlueCross discriminated against HIV-positive beneficiaries in violation of the Affordable Care Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which breached their insurance contract. The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Affordable Care Act prohibits discrimination against the disabled in the provision of federally supported health programs under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. BlueCross did not violate the Rehabilitation Act; it did not exclude Doe from participating in the plan or deny him benefits covered by it. Section 504 does not prohibit disparate-impact discrimination. The ADA claim failed because Doe targets BlueCross’s operation of his health care plan, not its control over his pharmacy (a public accommodation). View "Doe v. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Inc." on Justia Law

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Medicare pays for doctors’ home visits if a patient is homebound. Mobile Doctors offered physician services to homebound Medicare beneficiaries, hiring doctors who assigned their Medicare billing rights to the company. Upon receipt of payment, Mobile would pay the physician-employee a percentage of what Mobile received from billing Medicare. Many of Mobile’s patients did not actually qualify as homebound. Some doctors signed certifications for additional unneeded treatment from companies that provided at-home nursing or physical therapy services—companies that had referred the patients to Mobile. Mobile submitted Medicare codes for more serious and more expensive diagnoses or procedures than the provider actually diagnosed or performed. Mobile instructed physicians to list at least three diagnoses in the patient file; if the doctors did not list enough, a staff member added more. Mobile only paid the physicians if they checked at least one of the top two billing codes. Doctors who billed for the higher of the top two codes were paid more. Mobile also paid for “standing orders” for testing, although Medicare prohibits testing done under standing orders. Daneshvar joined Mobile as a physician in 2012. After following Mobile’s policies Daneshvar was convicted of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud but found not guilty of healthcare fraud; he was sentenced to 24 months' imprisonment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Daneshvar’s trial was fair; none of the district court’s rulings during that proceeding should be reversed. There was no reversible error with his sentencing. View "United States v. Daneshvar" on Justia Law

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MCEP, an acute care, for-profit hospital owned by 60 physicians and one corporate shareholder, opened in 2006. By 2009, MCEP’s existence as a physician-owned enterprise ended when it sold an ownership interest to Kettering Health Network, a competitor in the Dayton healthcare market. MCEP alleges that it failed because of the anticompetitive actions of Premier, a dominant healthcare network in the Dayton area. MCEP alleges that Premier contracted with area physicians and payers (insurers and managed-care plan providers) on the condition that they did not do business with MCEP. MCEP claims that Premier engaged in a conspiracy so devoid of benefit to the market as to be per se illegal under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. To be per se illegal, a defendant’s conduct has to be so obviously anticompetitive that it has no plausibly procompetitive features. Premier’s contracts with payers and physicians had plausibly procompetitive features. It is plausible that panel limitations, which prohibited referrals to MCEP, lower the cost of defendants’ services and improve “cost effectiveness and efficiencies in the delivery of health care services.” View "Medical Center at Elizabeth Place, LLC v. Atrium Health System" on Justia Law

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Ace, a licensed physician, and Lesa Chaney owned and operated Ace Clinique in Hazard, Kentucky. An anonymous caller told the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services that Ace pre-signed prescriptions. An investigation revealed that Ace was absent on the day that several prescriptions signed by Ace and dated that day were filled. Clinique employees admitted to using and showed agents pre-signed prescription blanks. Agents obtained warrants to search Clinique and the Chaneys’ home and airplane hangar for evidence of violations of 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), knowing or intentional distribution of controlled substances, and 18 U.S.C. 1956(h), conspiracies to commit money laundering. Evidence seized from the hangar and evidence seized from Clinique that dated to before March 2006 were suppressed. The court rejected arguments that the warrants’ enumeration of “patient files” was overly broad and insufficiently particular. During trial, an alternate juror reported some “concerns about how serious[ly] the jury was taking their duty.” The court did not tell counsel about those concerns. After the verdict, the same alternate juror—who did not participate in deliberations—contacted defense counsel; the court conducted an in camera interview, then denied a motion for a new trial. To calculate the sentencing guidelines range, the PSR recommended that every drug Ace prescribed during the relevant time period and every Medicaid billing should be used to calculate drug quantity and loss amount. The court found that 60 percent of the drugs and billings were fraudulent, varied downward from the guidelines-recommended life sentences, and sentenced Ace to 180 months and Lesa to 80 months in custody. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the constitutionality of the warrant that allowed the search of the clinic; the sufficiency of the evidence; and the calculation of the guidelines range and a claim of jury misconduct. View "United States v. Chaney" on Justia Law

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Kentucky’s “Ultrasound Informed Consent Act,” KRS 311.727, directs a doctor, before performing an abortion, to perform an ultrasound; display the ultrasound images for the patient; and explain, in the doctor’s own words, what is being depicted. There is no requirement that the patient view the images or listen to the description. The doctor also must auscultate the fetal heartbeat but may turn off the volume if the patient requests. The Act does not penalize a doctor if the patient requested that the heartbeat sound be turned off or chose not to look at the ultrasound images or if the doctor makes any other statement, including advising a patient that she need not listen to or view the disclosures, or that the patient should have an abortion. A doctor need not make any disclosures if an abortion is medically necessary or in a medical emergency. Doctors brought a First Amendment challenge. The district court permanently enjoined enforcement of the Act. The Sixth Circuit reversed, citing the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision, National Institute of Family & Life Advocates, clarifying that no heightened First Amendment scrutiny should apply to abortion-informed-consent statutes. Even though an abortion-informed-consent law compels a doctor’s disclosure of certain information, it should be upheld so long as the disclosure is truthful, non-misleading, and relevant to abortion. View "EMW Women's Surgical Center P.S.C. v. Beshear" on Justia Law