From insurance fraud and reform to the opioid epidemic, the healthcare industry has been the focal point of increasing national attention over the past decade. I recently caught up with Magda Rodriguez, a member of the healthcare group at Tache, Bronis, Christianson & Descalzo, P.A. in Miami, Florida, to discuss her law practice, healthcare trends, and volunteer activities outside of the office.
Hi Magda, first let me thank you for doing this interview and congratulate you on your recent runner-up finish for Woman of the Year for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). How and why did you get involved with the LLS?
Funding research, finding cures, and assisting families and patients who are bravely battling cancer has always been an important issue to me, which is aligned with the mission of LLS. It is difficult to find someone these days who hasn’t been either directly or indirectly affected by a form of cancer. My little brother was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of 9. As a family member, it is a helpless feeling, and as a problem solver I refused to sit around. So 10 years ago I started getting involved with organizations that had a proven track record of assisting patients diagnosed with cancer, and being on the forefront of research to find effective treatments and cures. I was truly impressed by the great work that LLS does for communities around the country, as well as the progress they’ve made in treating blood cancers.
It sounds like blood cancers are something that you are really passionate about. Do you think that played a part in your getting into healthcare law?
Well, I think I have always been drawn to healthcare. I always thought I’d be working in the field somehow, but I never quite imagined the industries would intersect and blend quite like this. I was exposed to both the practitioner and the administrative aspects of healthcare at a young age. Both of my parents are doctors, and, as a result, I grew up assisting both of them in their offices, eventually helping them manage the medical billing and collections for their practices. I also volunteered at the medical staff office of a local hospital for several years, which allowed me to learn about the physician credentialing process, peer reviews, and interacting with physician leadership committees. I always knew that I wanted to continue in the healthcare field, but I quickly learned the healthcare law space was very intimate and difficult to break into once I became a lawyer. After searching for available opportunities, I was finally lucky enough to get a position as a legal intern with one of the largest healthcare providers in the nation. I packed my bags and moved up to Tennessee and although I didn’t realize it at the time, it was the best professional decision I ever made. When the internship ended and I was moving back home to Miami, the company gave me a recommendation, which helped me land a position with a large, national firm in the area.
Speaking of healthcare law, can you tell me a little bit about what your practice entails?
My practice is primarily focused on healthcare investigation and litigation . . . preferably, litigation avoidance. My clients are typically hospitals and healthcare corporations, and physician practice groups. I assist on everything from internal quality issues, to internal investigations, peer reviews of physicians, governmental investigations, regulatory compliance, class-action defense, and consulting and defending actions relating to data breach, to name a few. The issues are truly vast, which keeps things interesting.
Healthcare reform has obviously been in the news a lot recently with the proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I assume any changes to the ACA would impact your healthcare clients. What are you and/or clients looking at primarily in terms of the potential changes to the ACA?
Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act is in such a status of flux, that there is no point in trying to figure out what will survive. It feels as if our clients have just completed compliance, training, and rolling out new protocols to comply with the current ACA regulations, which resulted in significant costs and expenditure of resources in ensuring compliance. ACA is complex and touches on so many pieces that the public is usually not aware of, such as restrictions imposed on the expansion of physician-owned hospitals. Right now, we are holding our breath to see what comes next. Every change brings about new regulations, and compliance issues, which may or may not be effective in practice. We would have to follow the progress of any new proposed regulations promulgated by the changes in the law to get ahead of the curve, but those will not be published until well after the changes are enacted.
Assuming the law remains unchanged for now, what are some of the current trends in the healthcare field in 2017?
Emerging technology in the healthcare field is growing rapidly to meet the desires of the current consumer market, and posing some interesting legal analyses along the way. The consumers’ need for immediacy has prompted the development of apps for things such as physician house calls and general wellness. The implications and exposure to medical facilities and practitioners could evolve with the implementation of remote medical services. Of course, there are always patient privacy concerns relating to solicitation of patients and the protection of their data.
What advice would you give to attorneys who are interested in pursuing a practice in healthcare law?
Getting involved in bar associations that cater toward healthcare attorneys is a great start, but don’t stop there. Find out who your target clients or employers are and research organizations they belong to so you can interact with them. Sometimes you learn the most by interacting with the folks who are the boots on the ground, and you never know whether these individuals can expand your network. For new or young attorneys, never turn down the possibility of interning—whether it’s with the federal government, such as HHS, or with a healthcare company.
That's great advice. So, along those lines, is there anything that you know now that you wish you had known when you first got started practicing?
When I first started practicing, and even years into my practice, I felt senior attorneys attempted to take advantage of what they thought to be my lack of experience. I knew I was on the right side of the law, but naturally, I double and triple checked everything. Be prepared, feel free to respectfully assert yourself and your position. Be confident and realize one of the biggest mistakes a lawyer—aptly, any person in a battle—can make is to underestimate their opponent. When the opposing lawyer falls into this trap they will never see you coming, and the judges tend to notice both the interaction and your poise.
Adrian K. Felix is an attorney with Bilzin Sumberg in Miami, Florida. He is the cochair of the Section of Litigation's Young Advocates Committee and Miami Judicial Internship Opportunity Program (JIOP).