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Law Firm Pays Over $90,000 to Settle A Failure to Reimburse Medicare Claim Brought by U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland
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Law Firm Pays Over $90,000 to Settle A Failure to Reimburse Medicare Claim Brought by U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland

Once again, a law firm was alleged to have failed to properly reimburse Medicare for conditional payments made by Medicare for injuries that were compensated in at least one settlement on behalf of an injured client. The press release, which can be found here involves a fact pattern a little different from a few other recent recovery actions by the U.S. Government related to alleged MSP violations. Often attorneys will refer liability cases to other attorneys or firms that handle personal injury, premises liability, and medical malpractice claims. The attorney that refers the case is typically allowed to share in the attorney’s fees obtained upon successful resolution. The fees obtained by the referring lawyer/firm are supposed to approximate and reflect a reasonable amount for the amount of work they do. Some attorneys do a thorough intake procedure and maintain contact with the client throughout the representation, are copied on all correspondence, and may provide input on strategy and procedure. After all, they have a responsibility to the injured party that originally contacted them in the first place. This matter involved six cases the U.S. Attorney’s office was investigating and of the six, four had been referred by the investigated firm to co-counsel. The firm was held responsible for the alleged failures to reimburse Medicare, regardless of whether they were a referring firm for a case handled by another firm or whether they were the handling the claim from start to finish.

We have provided other instances over the past few years where settlements were made with the Department of Justice including here and here.

However, Plaintiff attorneys in particular should be on high alert because the most recent enforcement actions have been focused on attorneys that disbursed funds to their clients after case finalization but failed to ensure that Medicare’s conditional payments were paid or otherwise resolved.

Take Aways:

  • Because the MSP grants both a direct lien right and a subrogation right to the U.S. to collect Medicare’s conditional payments, parties to a settlement should inquire, evaluate and confirm all injury-related Medicare expenditures for past medicals at the time of settlement.
  • Even if you “only” refer an injury case to another attorney who may do a majority of the work on the case, you should take an interest in verifying the existence of any liens that need to be addressed.
  • Due diligence is required for both the defense and plaintiff side to avoid unnecessary MSP legal exposure.
  • In addition to checking and verifying the correct demand amounts from CMS contractors, prior to settlement, steps should be taken by all parties to expand lien search inquiries beyond traditional Medicare (and Medicaid) to determine whether a Medicare Advantage Plan/Organization (MAP/MAO) or Prescription Drug Plan (PDP) made any conditional payments that could be recovered under the MSP. This is because the MSP private cause of action provision has been held in at least two federal circuits to apply to MAO’s and would likely be held to apply to PDP’s too.
  • There is value in evaluating Conditional Payment Summary forms that accompany the conditional payment correspondence from Medicare to confirm all entries on the form are injury-related and/or determine whether some entries should be disputed.
  • During the lien investigation process, parties should analyze whether a compromise (reduction) of a lien or potentially a waiver may be appropriate.

It is crucial for prospective settling parties to investigate conditional payment reimbursement amounts or work with an entity familiar with lien investigation procedures.
Medivest provides lien resolution services to help parties satisfactorily negotiate outstanding public and private health care matters including Medicare liens, Medicaid liens, Veterans Administration/TriCare liens, hospital liens, and doctors’ bills. Our lien resolution team works hard to dispute non-claim related bills, resolve and reduce outstanding bills/liens, and will seek refunds for amounts already paid when appropriate. Please reach out to discuss lien resolution today.

Law Firm to Pay $250,000 to U.S. For MSP Non-Compliance (Failing to Reimburse/Resolve Medicare Lien from Personal Injury Settlement Proceeds)
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Law Firm to Pay $250,000 to U.S. For MSP Non-Compliance (Failing to Reimburse/Resolve Medicare Lien from Personal Injury Settlement Proceeds)

The following is a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announcing a Medicare Secondary Payer Act (MSP)[1] MSP non-compliance settlement with the U.S. by a plaintiff law firm from Maryland that failed to properly address or make Medicare conditional payment reimbursement (i.e. pay a Medicare lien) from the proceeds of a medical malpractice settlement secured for a firm client in 2015.  This MSP non-compliance settlement is similar to the one we wrote about from June of 2018 regarding a plaintiff law firm in Pennsylvania.

“Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Maryland
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, March 18, 2019

Maryland Law Firm Meyers, Rodbell & Rosenbaum, P.A., Agrees to Pay the United States $250,000 to Settle Claims that it Did Not Reimburse Medicare for Payments Made on Behalf of a Firm Client

Baltimore, Maryland – United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur announced that Meyers, Rodbell & Rosenbaum, P.A., a law firm with offices in Riverdale Park and Gaithersburg, has entered into a settlement agreement with the United States to resolve allegations that it failed to reimburse the United States for certain Medicare payments made to medical providers on behalf of a firm client.

“Attorneys typically receive settlement proceeds for and disburse settlement proceeds to their clients, so they are often in the best position to ensure that Medicare’s conditional payments are repaid,” said U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur. “We intend to hold attorneys accountable for failing to make good on their obligations to repay Medicare for its conditional payments.”

According to the settlement agreement, in and prior to 2012, Medicare made conditional payments to healthcare providers to satisfy medical bills for a client of the firm. Under the Medicare statute and regulations, Medicare is authorized to make conditional payments for medical items or services under certain circumstances, with the requirement that when an injured person receives a tort settlement or judgment, those receiving the proceeds of the settlement or judgment, including the injured person’s attorney, are required to repay Medicare for the conditional payments.

In December 2015, with the firm’s assistance and representation, the client received a $1,150,000 settlement in a medical malpractice action stemming from the client’s injuries. After Medicare was notified of the settlement, Medicare demanded repayment of the Medicare debts incurred from those conditional payments, but the firm refused to pay the debt in full, even when the debt became administratively final.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the firm agreed to pay the United States $250,000 to resolve the Government’s claims. The firm also agreed to (1) designate a person at the firm responsible for paying Medicare secondary payer debts; (2) train the designated employee to ensure that the firm pays these debts on a timely basis; and (3) review any outstanding debts with the designated employee at least every six months to ensure compliance.

This settlement reminds attorneys of their obligation to reimburse Medicare for conditional payments after receiving settlement or judgment proceeds for their clients. This settlement should also remind attorneys not to disburse settlement proceeds until receipt of a final demand from Medicare to pay the outstanding debt.

U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur commended Eric Wolfish, Assistant Regional Counsel, United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the General Counsel, Region III, for his work in the investigation. Mr. Hur thanked Assistant United States Attorney Alan C. Lazerow, who handled the case.

# # #”

Take Aways:

  • Because the MSP grants both a direct lien right and a subrogation right to the U.S. to collect Medicare’s conditional payments, parties to a settlement should inquire, evaluate, confirm, and address all injury related Medicare expenditures for past medicals prior to, or at a minimum, at the time of settlement.
  • Because the MSP grants a private cause of action (MSP PCOA)[2] and Medicare Advantage Plans that privately administer traditional Medicare coverage for enrolled Medicare beneficiaries (MAO’s) have successfully availed themselves of this MSP PCOA against primary plans[3], parties should also inquire, evaluate, confirm, and address all injury related MAO payments for past medicals as described above.
  • While the Eleventh Circuit recently ruled that MSP private cause of action double damages could only be brought against primary plans[4], case law is not fully settled throughout the U.S. as to whether those other than primary plans like attorneys for Medicare beneficiaries would be liable for double damages under the MSP PCOA[5].  However, there is no doubt the double damages remedy clearly listed in the MSP’s direct cause of action provision applies in recovery actions by the U.S. Government against those who receive payments from primary plans, including Medicare beneficiaries and their attorneys[6].
  • When representing an injured party, doesn’t it make sense to address the issue at the time of representation instead of waiting to see whether the issue results in legal liability or a legal malpractice claim stemming from MSP non-compliance?
  • Due diligence is required for both the defense and plaintiff side to avoid unnecessary MSP non-compliance settlements/legal exposure.

[1] 42 U.S.C. 1395y(b)(2) et seq.

[2] “There is established a private cause of action for damages (which shall be in an amount double the amount otherwise provided) in the case of a primary plan which fails to provide for primary payment (or appropriate reimbursement) in accordance with paragraphs (1) and (2)(A).” 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b)(3)(A).

[3] See e.g. In re Avandia Mktg., Sales Practices & Prods. Liab. Litig.685 F.3d 353 (3d Cir. 2012)Humana Med. Plan, Inc. v. W. Heritage Ins. Co., 832 F.3d 1229 (11th Cir. 2016).

[4] MSPA Claims 1, LLC v. Tenet Florida, Inc. — F.3d —- 2019 WL 1233207 18-11816 (11th Cir. March 18, 2019).

[5]  In Aetna Life Ins. Co., v. Nellina Guerrera et al., No. 3:17-CV-621 (JCH), 2018 WL 1320666, (D. Conn. Mar. 13, 2018), grocery store Big Y’s motion to dismiss was denied after Big Y, the alleged tortfeasor in the liability action and thus, a primary plan, settled and paid a Medicare beneficiary. Aetna, a MAO, was allowed to proceed with a MSP private cause of action for double damages against Big Y. However, the court granted motions to dismiss by the Medicare beneficiary and the Medicare beneficiary’s attorney, because under the MSP PCOA scenario, they were not primary plans.

[6] MSPA Claims 1, LLC v. Tenet Florida, Inc. — F.3d —- 2019 WL 1233207 18-11816 at 6 (11th Cir. March 18, 2019) (“[u]nlike the private cause of action, the government’s cause of action broadly permits lawsuits against ‘any entity that has received a payment from a primary plan’ – a grant that includes medical providers.” citing 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b)(2)(B)(iii)(the MSP direct cause of action by the U.S.); Haro v. Sebelius, 747 F. 3d 1099, 1116 and U.S. v. Stricker, 524 F. App’x 500, 504 (11th Circ. 2013)(unpublished)).

The Road to Settlement Funds Mismanagement is Paved with Good Intentions
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The Road to Settlement Funds Mismanagement is Paved with Good Intentions

It is perhaps cliché to say that life is made up of the decisions you make. But, overused maxims tend to communicate common truths, hence their ubiquity. Decision-making is mainly about choosing one of two or more options to achieve the most desirable outcome. Some decisions are straightforward and obvious. Many are not. Still more are tied up in the tension between what we want to do and what we should do. Values, discernment, and even willpower all factor into the process.

Decisions about money are among the most consequential. It therefore reasons that decisions involving large sums of money are highly consequential. Injury settlements are a prime example of how poor decision-making can produce unfortunate, even disastrous outcomes for both the injured and their families. Really no different than the lottery winner whose sudden wealth turns into debt and insolvency within a brief period, so the injured person who receives a cash settlement of any size is often just as unprepared and soon makes decisions that cannot be undone. Money, once spent, cannot be unspent.


“Where There Is No Vision, the People Perish”

Many people have very good intentions from the outset, but good intentions are not enough. General goals without specific plans to reach those goals will usually fall short. So, what are the missing plans that can cause settlement funds mismanagement?

  • a plan to get the most value out of every dollar spent
  • a plan to use the money for what it was intended
  • a plan to ensure the funds are insulated from poor decision-making

This type of planning helps set priorities and leads to the details needed to help the plan succeed. It is really no different than the priorities considered in good personal finance planning. Some settlement beneficiaries get this, but many do not. That’s because this is a problem common to almost all of us. Most of us do not fund our retirements as we should, do not save as we should, and often do not limit our spending as we should. Any bonuses we receive evaporate quickly. We live up to our means and, some how, when we receive a raise, we then live up to that new limit again. And for individuals with injuries who may not be able to work or whose treatment costs exceed expected costs over their lifetime, mismanagement of a fixed settlement amount will likely result in considerable hardship for the injured and their family.


The Advantages of a Professional Custodian

Once one considers how important it is to have a detailed plan for competent management of  settlement funds, the use of a professional custodian begins to make a lot of sense. Vesting a professional custodian with the responsibility for settlement funds decisions addresses the major problems created by the introduction of a large sum of money into an injured person’s finances.

We’ll look at the advantages of a professional custodian, but first, let’s consider the major factors that often negatively affect the decision-making process for a beneficiary handling their own funds:

  • Lack of Expertise – Inability to seek or negotiate for the best price on products and services due to a lack of knowledge about fee schedules, rates, coordination of benefits, medical billing department practices and policies, and negotiation.
  • Dependence on Willpower – Decisions are at the mercy of the beneficiary’s self-control.
  • Outside Influences – Life circumstances, or the needs or even manipulation of family members or friends creates pressure to spend imprudently.

 

Again, these are pitfalls relatively common to all of us. It is easy for emotion and even rationalization to play into spending decisions. This is why there is certainly wisdom in building a wall around all or at least portions of a settlement to protect the funds and beneficiary alike.

Consider how a professional custodian’s decision-making process addresses the issues we’ve discussed:

  • Professional Expertise – Knowledge and experience in reviewing and repricing claims down to applicable fee schedules, and negotiating reductions in claims where possible.
  • Limited by Agreement – Discretion in spending decisions is limited by agreement. The custodian is not permitted to use the funds in any fashion not explicitly contemplated by the contract. Emotionality is factored out of the decision-making process.
  • Contingency Planning – In the event of specific circumstances, special exceptions can be planned for and facilitated.


Custodial Arrangements: Not just for Medicare Set-Asides

Medicare set-aside accounts, which are created as mechanisms to comply with federal law by protecting Medicare from paying when it should not, and which contain funds specifically limited to the Medicare allowable and injury-related expenses, are commonly administered by a professional custodian (or “professional administrator”). But, other settlement funds should be placed with a professional custodian as well. It’s also worth mentioning that the best way to ensure that settlement funds are used according to the dictates of a settlement is to place those funds with a third party that is bound to comply with the terms that establish their custodianship.

At Medivest, we frequently receive calls from beneficiaries who are interested in seeking some flexibility in how their professionally administered funds are spent. The most common reason for this request is that they have already spent their remaining settlement funds and the monies under our company’s charge are all that remain. It is not difficult in those circumstances to surmise what would have happened with those custodial funds had we not been “in the picture.”

As example has shown time and again, managing large sums of money is not a simple task, and requires proper planning ahead of time to prevent problems down the road. In each settlement, it makes sense to consider using a professional custodian if concerns about fund mismanagement are warranted. Medivest has been providing custodial services to injured beneficiaries for over twenty years. We’ve helped thousands of  individuals spend their settlement funds in a strategic and prudent manner in order to help stretch those funds to their benefit and the benefit of their families. If you have questions about how to integrate a custodial arrangement into a settlement, please do not hesitate to contact us.

How to Use a Medicare Set-Aside Allocation (and, how NOT to)
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How to Use a Medicare Set-Aside Allocation (and, how NOT to)

Administering Medicare Set-Aside (MSA) funds properly is a daunting task for most. Nuance in the Medicare formulary, ignorance about MSAs in the provider’s billing department, and complexity in medical coding all conspire to frustrate even the most diligent and well-meaning of beneficiaries. Truly, the successful MSA custodian has to be part educator, part negotiator, part coding wizard, and part accountant.

Conflated Ideas

In this area of compliance, it is not surprising that misunderstandings abound. One common misconception involves what can actually be paid for from a MSA account. This mistake sometimes has its origin in the failure to understand the MSA allocation report’s actual purpose. It probably does not help that the term “MSA” is sometimes used to describe both the funds in a MSA account and a MSA allocation report (“MSA allocation” or “MSA report”).

The properly prepared MSA report’s value lies in its final dollar amount. Medicare is given consideration through the establishment of an amount of money to be used to treat the injury, thereby shielding Medicare from premature payments on behalf of the beneficiary. This is necessitated by the fact that, by law[1], Medicare is secondary to workers’ compensation and liability injuries, pre and post-settlement. The amount established in the MSA allocation is intended to be spent prior to Medicare becoming primary. But also, the settlement is able to establish a limit to how much of the settlement proceeds must be isolated for the sole purpose of stepping in front of Medicare. According to the latest version of the Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside Arrangement (WCMSA) Reference Guide, where no arrangement is made for how future medicals shall be paid, Medicare may consider the entire settlement as primary[2].

An Estimate, not a Formulary

The mistake is in a literal application, not of the MSA report’s final dollar amount, but of the itemized detail of medical services and medications. It is common for a beneficiary, those counseling them, or those settling with them, to believe that only the specific items listed in the MSA report are covered by the MSA funds. It’s imagined that the beneficiary, when paying their bills, will reference the MSA allocation to determine whether a given medical expense is listed there, and if not, arrange to have it paid by other means. But, the MSA allocation is not an injury-specific formulary of allowed items any more than it is a prescription for care.

In actuality, anyone who has written a MSA allocation or administered MSA funds for a relatively short period of time knows that, at its best, the MSA allocation report is an educated guess. Moreover, the stock MSA allocation, if written to the government’s review standards, may project treatments in frequencies that would not ordinarily be expected, ballooning its amount, or completely ignore the inflationary nature of healthcare costs over time, deflating the final amount below reality’s expectation of the future. (That back x-ray costs $65 today. Do you imagine it will cost that in 10 or 15 years?) In the end, the final number is recognized as an adequate consideration of Medicare’s interests, but a supposition unlikely to hit future costs with absolute accuracy.

Consider all of the ways that actual injury expenses could differ from those in the MSA allocation report. Take prescription drugs as an example. A drug priced into a MSA report references a single NDC (National Drug Code), but that particular drug may have dozens of codes, representing different manufacturers, doses, forms, etc. It’s very likely your corner store pharmacy is going to fill your drug under a different code, and different price. The other corner store pharmacy right across from your corner store pharmacy may use still another code and price. A drug prescribed to treat a condition may become ineffective or create side effects undesired by the beneficiary and/or the prescribing physician. It is not uncommon for a physician to drop one medication in favor of another, or add or remove medications. This all changes the spend.

Also, the Medicare formulary changes annually. Something covered by Medicare today may not be covered in the future, and just because an expense was contemplated in a MSA report, it does not mean that the MSA funds should continue to cover it if that particular expense is no longer covered by Medicare. In summary, a beneficiary’s needs may change over time and the MSA allocation report is not designed to and cannot contemplate all of those changes at the time it is prepared.

What to Pay

So, what is actually to be paid from MSA funds? The answer is any and all Medicare allowable, injury-related expenses incurred on or after the date of settlement until the MSA funds are properly exhausted. Administration is all about stepping in front of Medicare to prevent any payment by it for injury-related expenses until MSA funds are gone. This is not accomplished by checking expenses against the list in the MSA allocation report. It is about identifying injury related expenses that Medicare would otherwise pay for and paying them at rates consistent with or below the applicable fee schedule. It is inaccurate to say that Medicare is responsible for any injury-related expenses not specifically contemplated by the MSA allocation. Such an assumption (though made more frequently than you may expect), if resulting in payments by Medicare for the injury while MSA funds still exist, represents an unlawful shift of burden to Medicare that may prompt a request for reimbursement if discovered.

In the event that real life is more expensive than the MSA report expected, what then? Medicare will assume primary responsibility for the injury’s Medicare allowable expenses once the MSA funds have been spent, provided those funds are spent properly. They will do this annually, in the case of temporary exhaustions, or from the point of permanent exhaustion onward. The key is the ability to demonstrate that the funds were spent according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service’s (CMS) guidelines. And what if the MSA report seems to have expected more expense than is actually realized? CMS wants those funds to remain in the MSA account in the event one of those unforeseen complications, hospitalizations, or changes in treatment comes along.

In conclusion, a MSA allocation is a valuable resource to any administrator of MSA funds to understand at a glance the nature of the injury and any co-morbid conditions that are specifically excluded. However, it should be used for what it was intended, namely, to arrive at an amount. Understanding the proper use of the MSA funds is critical to administering the funds correctly. A beneficiary who uses their MSA allocation report as a litmus test for what the MSA account can and cannot pay for may end up draining other settlement funds unnecessarily or end up shifting the burden to Medicare prematurely. Ultimately, improper administration places the beneficiary’s Medicare benefits at risk, as Medicare has the right to suspend benefits until it has recovered payments that should have been made by other primary funds.


[1] Medicare Secondary Payer Statute, 42 U.S.C. §1395y(b) a/k/a the MSP.

[2] See Section 8.1 titled Review Thresholds, Example 2 –“Not establishing some plan for future care places settling parties at risk for recovery from care    related to the WC injury up to the full value of the settlement.”

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Is Your Claimant Competent To Administer Their MSA?

An evaluation of competence should take place by the settling parties before Medicare Set-Aside (MSA) monies are given to a claimant to self-administer. Unfortunately, everyday in cases all over America, large amounts of money are turned over to injury victims to self-administer their own MSAs with no evaluation of competence whatsoever. Why? Because it is not required. What happens if a seriously injured person does not manage this money properly and fails to follow all the complex rules? They are at risk to lose their Medicare insurance benefits and the Medicare Trust Fund loses money. Allowing incompetent, injured claimants to self-administer their own MSAs is truly a lose-lose situation for the claimant and for the Medicare Trust Fund.

 

Medivest Benefit Advisors proposed to CMS to update the language in their WCMSA Reference Manual to address the claimant, as administrator, be competent. In the May 29, 2014 version of the WCMSA Reference Manual, CMS took Medivest’s suggestion and updated the language of section 17.1.

17.1 Administrators
WCMSAs should be administered by a competent administrator (a professional administrator, the representative payee, the claimant, etc.) When a claimant designates a representative payee, appointed guardian/conservator, or has otherwise been declared incompetent by a court; the settling parties must include that information in their WCMSA proposal to CMS.

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