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Medicare Lien Enforcement – Time to Take Notice
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Medicare Lien Enforcement – Time to Take Notice

In addition to Medicare being a secondary payer to workers’ compensation as it has been since Medicare was established in 1965, the Medicare Secondary Payer Act of 1980, found at 42 U.S.C. §1395y(b) et seq. (MSP) made Medicare secondary to auto, liability (including self-insureds), and no-fault insurance. These entities or insurance plans, including workers’ compensation plans, are referred to in the MSP as primary plans (Primary Plans).

The MSP allows the U.S. to pursue a double damages recovery for two times the amount Medicare conditionally paid toward injury-related medicals when a Primary Plan should have made those payments. Medicare lien enforcement lawsuits seeking conditional payment recovery by the U.S. must be brought within three years “. . . after the date of receipt of notice of a settlement, judgment, award, or other payment . . . .” Conditional payment recovery suits have historically been focused on protecting Medicare’s past interests although technically, conditional payments can also occur after a settlement. There have been conflicting results in courts over whether the double damages remedy applies only to a Primary Plan or extends to those receiving money from a Primary Plan, such as Medicare beneficiaries (Beneficiaries) or their attorneys.

Pursuant to 42 C.F.R. § 411.24(h), reimbursement of Medicare must occur within 60 days and if not, interest may accrue at close to ten percent under 45 C.F.R. § 30.13. Due to this high rate of interest and the looming threat of double damages, the standard in the lien resolution industry is to pay the amount demanded and request a partial refund, unless a resolution can be reached before settlement with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that runs Medicare. CMS is allowed to compromise (reduce) and even waive Medicare recoveries based on various factors listed in several federal statutes and regulations. Under 45 C.F.R. § 30.14(a), a debtor may either pay the debt within the 60-day period from the final demand or be liable for interest during a 120-waiver determination period, while on appeal, or while any formal or informal review of the debt is pending.

We have written about conditional payment/Medicare lien recovery actions by the U.S. pursuant to the MSP before. Cases have been brought against Beneficiaries, their attorneys, and/or Primary Plans on behalf of CMS.

Medicare Lien Recovery Cases Against Beneficiaries and/or their Attorneys.

On June 18, 2018, the Department of Justice announced in a press release that an attorney/law firm entered into an agreement to repay the U.S. $28,000 after failing to ensure that the attorney/law firm client reimbursed Medicare for conditional payments made related to the underlying injury. The law firm had already disbursed the net settlement funds to its client. The law firm of Rosenbaum & Associates in Philadelphia entered into a settlement with the DOJ agreeing to pay the government this money after the U.S. alleged attorney Rosenbaum failed to timely repay MSP debt. The firm additionally agreed to designate a person at the firm to be responsible for paying MSP debts, to train the designated employee to ensure that the firm pays these debts on a timely basis; and to review any outstanding debts with the designated employee at least every six months. Attorney Rosenbaum also acknowledged that he may be liable under the False Claims Act (31 U.S.C. § 3729 et seq.) for wrongful retention of government overpayments arising from the failure to timely repay the MSP debt.

Other cases have confirmed the above-referenced recovery rights of the U.S. to timely Medicare lien reimbursement. For example, a U.S. District Court granted summary judgment for $11,367.78 plus interest against an attorney for a Beneficiary, holding the attorney liable when Medicare’s conditional payments were not addressed/timely reimbursed from a third party settlement because the attorney’s contingency fee was paid from the proceeds of Primary Plan’s (liability) payment. See U.S. v. Harris, 2009 WL 891931 (N.D. W.Va. 2009) aff’d 334 Fed. Appx 569 (4th Cir. 2009). See also, U.S. v. Weinberg, 2002 WL 32356399 (E.D. Pa. 2002)(Partial judgment was entered in favor of the U.S. against the Defendant attorney on the issue of liability).

In U.S. v. Sosnowski, 822 F. Supp. 570 (W.D. Wis. 1993), the U.S. was entitled to recover MSP conditional payments from a Beneficiary and his attorney but was denied the award of double damages because the court interpreted the MSP as only allowing double damages to be assessed against Primary Plans and determined that neither the injured Beneficiary nor the Beneficiary’s attorney was a Primary Plan. If CMS gets more efficient at searching for all possible conditional payment reimbursement options, we could begin seeing more recovery actions and lawsuits against plaintiff attorneys and their Beneficiary clients.

Medicare Lien Recovery Cases Against Estates of Beneficiaries.

Cases in which CMS has proceeded against an estate of a Medicare beneficiary have yielded varying results. For example, CMS was successful in Benson v. Sebelius, 771 F. Supp. 2d 68, 75 (D.D.C. 2011) (Because plaintiff claimed his mother’s medical costs in pursuing his wrongful death action, medical expenses of mother were taken into consideration in calculating and negotiating wrongful death settlement award, and release to landlord where slip and fall occurred included any and all claims and rights including associated medical liens, no error was found when Medicare Appeals Board (in a de novo review) allowed CMS to recover its full medical expenses lien minus its procurement costs from the wrongful death settlement) (citing Mathis v. Leavitt, 554 F.3d 731, 733 (8th Cir.2009) (“Because appellants claimed all damages available under the Missouri wrongful death statute, the settlement, which settled all claims brought, necessarily resolved the claim for medical expenses.”); Cox v. Shalala, 112 F.3d 151, 154–55 (4th Cir.1997) (determining that Medicare was entitled to reimbursement for medical expenses from the proceeds of a wrongful death settlement because the settlement included recovery for decedent’s medical expenses); see also Brown v. Thompson, 374 F.3d 253, 262 (4th Cir.2004) (holding that CMS was entitled to reimbursement from the proceeds of a medical malpractice settlement pursuant to the MSP).

However, when the underlying wrongful death claim made no claim for medical expenses, there is a stronger argument that the Medicare lien does not extend to the estate of a deceased Medicare beneficiary. See Bradley v. Sebelius, 621 F.3d 1330 (11th Cir.2010) (The U.S. was denied the ability to recover Medicare’s conditional payments when no medical expenses of decedent Medicare Beneficiary were claimed in wrongful death action by survivors).

Medicare Lien Recovery Cases Against Primary Plans/Insurance Companies.

In a Northern District of Alabama case, the U.S. was not allowed to bring a direct MSP action (that would have allowed double damages) against a liability insurer that already settled its case and paid the Beneficiary, but had to bring a subrogation action pleading and proving that the liability carrier knew or should have known of Medicare’s conditional payments at the time payment was made to the Beneficiary. In re Silicone Gel Breast Implants Products Liability Litigation (MDL 926), 174 F.Supp.2d 1242; (N.D.Ala.2001), affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded 345 F.3d 866, certiorari denied 124 S.Ct. 2907, 542 U.S. 946, 159 L.Ed.2d 828.

In Aetna Life Ins. Co., v. Nellina Guerrera et al., No. 3:17-CV-621 (JCH), 2018 WL 1320666, (D. Conn. Mar. 13, 2018), still pending in District Court, grocery store Big Y’s motion to dismiss was denied after Big Y, the alleged tortfeasor in the liability action, settled and paid a Medicare beneficiary, making it a Primary Plan. Aetna, a Medicare Advantage Plan, 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 Beneficiary and the Beneficiary’s attorney, because it held that the MSP’s definition of Primary Plan did not specifically include them.

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.
• Due diligence is required for both the defense and plaintiff side to avoid unnecessary legal exposure.
• Additionally, because the intent of the MSP is to prevent premature billing of Medicare for injury-related future Medicare allowable medicals, parties to settlements should always consider Medicare’s future interests and decide on reasonable actions to protect those interests when such future medicals are compensated in any settlement.[4]


[1] 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b)(2)(B)(iii).

[2] Id.

[3] At a minimum, the MSP imposes legal responsibility for repayment of conditional payment amounts. Under subsection (b)(2)(B)(ii), “a primary plan and an entity that receives payment from a primary plan, shall reimburse the appropriate Trust Fund for any payment made . . . .” Furthermore, under subsection (b)(2)(B)(iii) after describing the double damages remedy allowed by the U.S., the statute states, “[I]n addition, the United States may recover under this clause from any entity that has received payment from a primary plan or from the proceeds of a primary plan’s payment to any entity.” The corresponding regulation, Title 42 of the Code of Federal Regulations Section 411.24(g) also explains this right in even more detail, “. . . CMS has a right of action to recover its payments from any entity, including a beneficiary, provider, supplier, physician, attorney, State agency or private insurer that has received a primary payment.” Arguments have been made as to whether the language “under this clause” referenced above relates to the reimbursement right or also extends the double damages right of the U.S. against those receiving payment from a Primary Plan. Some courts have restricted double damages awards only to Primary Plans or commercial entities required to make payment under a Primary Plan.

[4] Sally Stalcup, MSP Regional Coordinator, Region VI (May 25, 2011 Handout) at 3 (“. . . IF there was/is funding for otherwise covered and reimbursable future medical services related to what was claimed/released, the Medicare Trust Funds must be protected”).

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