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It’s not liability insurance. It’s not insurance at all, but it may mean the difference between losing your livelihood and a long and successful career as a case manager.
Licensing Protective Services (LPS) in Severna Park, MD, launched a prepaid legal service late last year for the sole purpose of helping professionals defend complaints against their licenses. "Many professionals assume that their liability insurance or their employer will provide coverage to defend their professional licenses, but that’s not the case. Your insurance company will address issues of malpractice, but not help you defend license," says Roy L. Mason, JD, CEO of LPS, a lawyer with more than 20 years of experience helping physicians and other professionals defend their licenses against state board action. "The first mistake people make is to try and deal with complaints against their licenses on their own. Maybe they don’t want to tell their employer. But that license is their livelihood — and how they respond to an investigator or to a complaint is critical."
Mason and his partners believe that they have found a way to make legal protection an affordable, sensible business expense for professionals operating in an increasingly litigious society. LPS provides up to $25,000 in reimbursed legal costs and expenses each year, with no deductible, for an annual fee that ranges from $99 to $299 depending on the profession. In addition, the fees are a tax-deductible business expense for most professionals.
"The whole society has become more litigious. Add to that a consumer who is so much more aware — a quick tour of the Internet can tell your client whether you have a valid license to practice in most states," notes Barry Fontaine, president of LPS. "Under the guise of consumer protection, state licensing boards have awesome power to investigate and discipline professionals without the normal due process a citizen is entitled to in a court of law. If someone files a complaint against you to your state board, they don’t complain for settlement — the only thing at stake is your license."
It’s quantity, not quality
State boards have become lightning rods for consumer complaints, notes Mason. "We have found the enemy and it is us. The turf battles being fought in many health care professions are reflected on the boards themselves. The makeup of the board and the decisions the boards make are always two or three years behind current professional practice — that’s just the way government works.
"I tell all potential clients that a complaint to the board has nothing to do with the quality of your work and everything to do with the volume of your work. The more clients you serve, the more likely it is that one of those clients is going to write a complaint to your state board. And the newer or more controversial your position, the less likely you are to find a friend on the board," he says.
(Editor’s note: Nurse case managers in New Hampshire had to defend their role to their state licensing board last year. See Case Management Advisor, October 1999, pp. 149-154, 159.)
State boards are under increasing scrutiny themselves, Mason adds. "States set up professional boards to govern the professional practice of each individual in the profession. State licensing board members are generally appointed by the state governor to multiyear terms to develop the rules and regulations that govern that profession. Boards need to provide proof that they are disciplining their members appropriately in order to grow," he explains.
"Boards are given authority to investigate those individuals practicing the profession. Whenever a state licensing board receives a complaint about a professional, it is charged with the responsibility to investigate the complaint. These state licensing board investigations have no time limitations, nor do they have to be limited to the scope of the original complaint," says Mason.
Professionals often greet state board investigators as peers. "They are coming from your state board. Later, you find out that the investigation has widened from the issue of the original complaint and become a review of your records, and suddenly the situation doesn’t seem so simple anymore," says Mason.
LPS doesn’t hire lawyers or brokers, so most states don’t consider the prepaid legal services the fledgling company provides to be insurance. "That means we can keep this simple and easy for our members. We use no brokers and require no lengthy contracts. We simply sign up members and connect them with a qualified local legal professional when there’s a problem," says Mason, adding that the lawyers were selected through referral sources who recommended them as lawyers experienced in state license defense work.
The important thing to remember about a consumer complaint or other action against your professional license is that unless there is a personal injury involved, there won’t be a lawyer representing the other side, says Mason. "An experienced counsel knows what the state board is looking for and can often resolve these issues with a telephone call or a letter. The experienced lawyer will also work quickly to contain the investigation and force a resolution of the issue, which is helpful to the professional who has this cloud hanging over his or her head."
LPS is using the Internet as a sales and service medium, notes Fontaine. To learn more about LPS, visit the company’s Web site at www. licproserv.com.