March 24, 2011

Home Medical Equipment Call Center Complications in Florida

Holland & Knight Alert
Shannon Britton Hartsfield

Companies that sell home medical equipment (HME) destined for Florida should proactively examine their current business activities and existing licenses to verify compliance with Florida law. Although these companies may already have licenses for locations that physically ship products into the state, licensure may also be required for centralized call centers that engage in sales or order intake activities – even if those locations do not store or maintain durable medical equipment. While administrative rules have been in place for several years that require licensure of call centers, some HME companies have been subject to recent enforcement activity.

High Fines for Unlicensed Activity

Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) currently takes the position that HME companies operating an unlicensed call center can be subject to fines as high as $5,000 per day for each day of unlicensed operation. Florida requires a license for any HME locations that "sell, rent, or distribute, or offer to sell or rent to or for a consumer any home medical equipment that requires services." These locations include anywhere an "intake person" takes patient calls and offers to rent or sell HME. Sites where a patient may call in response to an advertisement for HME must also obtain licensure. While sales representatives themselves do not need an HME license, a location – inside or outside of Florida – that has sales representatives working in the state must get a license.

Companies with locations both inside and outside the state are receiving notice from AHCA that they may be out of compliance with this licensure requirement. In addition to fines, HME companies may find renewal applications for existing licenses denied if they fail to comply with the call center licensure requirements. Some call centers may meet Florida's definition of a "central service center," which is a licensed premises that takes orders, sends those orders to "distribution centers," and maintains consumer and personnel records. There are advantages and disadvantages to being classified as a central service center or distribution center. Entities operating HME call centers that field calls from Florida residents need to consider carefully the potential regulatory implications.

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