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Is Paying a Third Party Liability Medicare Lien Really Only the Concern of the Plaintiff?
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Is Paying a Third Party Liability Medicare Lien Really Only the Concern of the Plaintiff?

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On Friday August 21, 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced a $53,295 settlement of Medicare Secondary Payer Act, 42 U.S.C. §1395y(b)(2) (“MSP”) debt.  The settlement described in the press release demonstrates the U.S. Government’s continued interest and intent in enforcing the recovery provisions of the MSP.

Headlines on MSP recovery often focus on plaintiff attorneys who fail to adequately address Medicare conditional payment reimbursement claims, often called Medicare liens by attorneys and Medicare beneficiaries.  However, at fault parties and their insurance carriers need to pay close attention to these MSP recovery actions.  That is because the MSP provides for joint and several liability of primary plans such as liability carriers and self-insureds, including the potential for double damages, even after settlement proceeds have been paid and a release has been signed.

While the plaintiff attorney is the focus of the headline “Harrisburg Law Firm Pays $53,295 To Reimburse Medicare Program” the press release indicates that one of the defendants in the underlying improper drug dispensing case, paid $33,750 of the $53,295 to the U.S. for settlement of the MSP debt.  Insurance carriers or self-insureds sometimes insist on forwarding the lien payment to Medicare because they don’t want to pay a settlement to the plaintiff, only to later be asked to pay the Medicare portion (or more) again, if the plaintiff’s attorney has not timely paid the lien.

There is no information about why the plaintiff’s firm did not pay the amount demanded, but ultimately paid $19,545.15 toward the debt in this settlement with the U.S. Government.  The conditional payments were described in the press release as being $84,353 with the ultimate settlement amount being $53,295.  This seems to indicate that a 36.82% procurement cost reduction was allowed.  The settlement did not include a double damages request or even include any additional interest.

It is not clear from the press release whether there were any appeals over the amount of Medicare’s demand “determination” that led to the delayed payment of the lien and whether the release agreement contemplated the defendant/primary plan agreeing to pay the Medicare debt from withheld settlement funds.   Did the parties do their due diligence in investigating the debt?  Did they coordinate with each other over whether any Conditional Payment Letters contained amounts not related to the claimed/released injuries?  Did they coordinate their respective settlement notification/reporting to make sure that the ICD codes reported from the plaintiff and defense were aligned, and to help prevent an overreach in the future by Medicare in potentially flagging more than just injury related claims.

Could it have been similar to the recent Osterbye case in which the parties seemed to rely on Conditional Payment Letters as opposed to the official Medicare demand at the time of settlement? See JOSEPH C. OSTERBYE, as Administrator of the ESTATE OF…, Slip Copy (2020) 2020 WL 3546869, June 30, 2020.  In Osterbye, the Administrator of an estate of a deceased Medicare beneficiary sued the U.S. Government and the primary plan defendant alleging that there was a mistake of fact as to the amount owed to Medicare when the plaintiff failed to recognize that two files had been opened for the same case.  The plaintiff alleged that the defendant had “initiated” a separate conditional payment claim with Medicare without disclosing to plaintiff the amount of the separate conditional payment amount and arguing that plaintiff would not have settled the case if he had known that Medicare had a lien for over $100,000.00.  At the time of settlement, the Conditional Payment Letter that the plaintiff was in possession of only indicated about $13,000.00 in conditional payments.  In Osterbye, the NJ U.S. District Court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss on the basis that the settlement may have been entered into based on mistake of fact indicating that the facts of the settlement will have to be investigated.   A similar issue was also addressed in the Langone state court case referenced in a prior blog article where parties mistakenly relied on Conditional Payment Letters instead of a demand letter.

Take Aways:

While some insist MSP recovery obligations are solely a plaintiff’s concern, defendants should pay close attention to make sure the debt is satisfied or otherwise resolved – Medicare will issue a case closed letter once the debt is satisfied even when a compromise is reached for an amount lower than the demand

Not all courts will be as accommodating to the plaintiff’s attorney as in the Osterbye Court.  Instead of a second bite at the settlement apple, the plaintiff’s attorney in Osterbye could have just as easily been accused of legal malpractice by the injured party, if there was a lack of disclosure or lack of competence by the attorney in verifying the proper amount of Medicare’s demand

Plaintiff and defense should cooperate with each other over what steps are being taken to confirm conditional payment resolution, including whether either party has hired a third party to investigate, audit, and/or negotiate the demand balance

Both parties should know that it is imperative to obtain a demand letter as opposed to a Conditional Payment Letter prior to settling a case unless the correct procedures have been taken via the Medicare Secondary Payer Recovery Portal to provide the 120 day anticipation of settlement notification and to request the Final Conditional Payment Calculation within 3 days of a settlement the details of which need to be timely reported

Plaintiff attorneys should be proactive in addressing Medicare’s past interests in a settlement by auditing payment summary forms to dispute non-injury related items, should timely notify Medicare of the settlement details to obtain procurement cost reductions, and should also consider whether lien resolution via waiver or compromise of the procurement cost reduced demand may be a suitable option to help the injured party retain more of the settlement proceeds.

<center>Upcoming CMS Webinar:<br>September 24, 2020</center>
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Upcoming CMS Webinar:
September 24, 2020

According to the CMS website, CMS.gov, CMS will be hosting a Commercial Repayment Center (CRC) Non-Group Health Plan (NGHP) Applicable Plan webinar to go over procedures and best practices for post demand dispute appeals called redeterminations.

As listed on the website’s announcement, the “format will be opening remarks by CMS followed by a presentation from the CRC. This webinar will primarily focus upon how to effectively submit a redetermination request (sometimes called a first level appeal). During the presentation, we will also be reviewing appeal requirements, what is and is not subject to appeal, and details about what documentation is needed to support the appeal request in various situations. Questions for this webinar may be submitted in advance to COBR-NGHP-Comments@cms.hhs.gov. Questions should be submitted no later than Friday, September 11, 2020.”

Call in details are below and it is suggested that participants call in 15 minutes prior to the call to ensure access:

 

Date: Thursday, September 24, 2020

Time: 1:00 PM ET

Webinar URL: NGHP Appeals Webinar

Conference Dial In: 888-829-8669

Conference Passcode: 6799170

 

CMS Provides Notice Regarding LMSA Regulations/Guidance
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CMS Provides Notice Regarding LMSA Regulations/Guidance

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Once again, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has provided an indication that while regulations and/or guidance is on its way regarding the protection of Medicare’s future interests for liability and No Fault settlements, the proposed rule regarding these have been moved to August 1, 2020 or perhaps further into the future (again). Technically, the information indicates that the Notice of Proposed Rule Making would “clarify existing Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) obligations associated with future medical items services related to liability insurance (including self-insurance), no fault insurance, and worker’s compensation settlements, judgments, awards, or other payments. Specifically, this rule would clarify that an individual or Medicare beneficiary must satisfy Medicare’s interest with respect to future medical items and services related to such settlements, judgments, awards, or other payments. This proposed rule would also remove obsolete regulations.” The information is also indicating that regulations CMS determines to be obsolete will be removed. See the disclosure published in the Spring 2020 Federal Register Unified Agenda here.

Many in the MSP compliance industry believe that while the regulations and guidance could be focused on clarifying both the need to protect Medicare’s future interests and the way to protect those interests for each of the Non Group Health Plan (NGHP) primary plan types (Liability, Self-Insurance, No Fault, and Workers’ Compensation), it seems more likely that this particular group of regulations and/or guidance will focus primarily on liability and No Fault settlements. This is because both regulations and guidance have already been published specific to protecting Medicare’s future interests in Workers’ Compensation settlements in both the Code of Federal Regulations and via the Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside Arrangement – WCMSA Reference Guide Version 3.1.

Regulations regarding this issue would be promulgated by CMS to appear in 42 CFR 405 and/or  42 CFR 411 and would apply to the Medicare Secondary Payer Act (MSP) found at 42 U.S.C. 1395y(b).  The removal of obsolete regulations could apply to any of the NGHP types.  The MSP, as governing federal law, applies to all of the NGHP types listed above, prohibits Medicare from paying when a primary plan’s funds are used to compensate an injured individual as a result of an injury, and provides extraordinary remedies to allow Medicare to recover payments it has made (called conditional payments) when it pays for an injured party’s medicals without regard to the dates of service for those payments.

Take Aways
  • Considering and protecting Medicare’s past interests has become the industry standard and quite honestly a “no brainer” for all NGHP settlement types – liability, self-insurance, No Fault, and Workers’ Compensation.
  • Whether the announced guidance comes this August or not, doesn’t it make sense to help ensure that Medicare’s future interests are protected in accordance with existing federal law, i.e. the MSP?
  • Helping to ensure that Medicare is not prematurely billed for injury related futures for any settlement type is the right thing to do and helps protect the Medicare Trust Funds.

Count on Medivest to help guide you through some of the complexities associated with MSP compliance.

 

 

2100 Alafaya Trail, Suite 201   •   Oviedo, FL 32765

Toll free: 877.725.2467   •   Fax: 407.971.4742  

Update on Medicare Conditional Payment Enforcement Actions
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Update on Medicare Conditional Payment Enforcement Actions

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In March 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, as an enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Department of HHS and its sub agency, CMS, against an attorney in Texas alleging failure of the attorney representing a party injured in a motor vehicle collision to properly reimburse Medicare for conditional payments.  The case is U.S. v. Carrigan & Anderson, Case 4:20-cv-00991, Filed 03/18/2020 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division.

That would not really seem like big news as we have written about several conditional payment enforcement actions by the U.S. Attorney’s Office/Department of Justice over the past few years against plaintiff attorneys for a failure to properly inquire with CMS’s Beneficiary Coordination & Recovery Center (BCRC) contractor and address amounts to be reimbursed to CMS.[1]

However, unlike some of the other cases, the plaintiff attorney in this case took proactive steps attempting to address Medicare’s past interests in the liability settlement.  Unfortunately, the steps taken were misguided.  Had the attorney requested a compromise or waiver and/or appealed the demand amount by CMS, he would have likely faired better.

Prior to settlement, the attorney properly provided notification of the claim to the BCRC triggering the search by the BCRC for claim related conditional payments.  The case settled for $70,000.00 and the plaintiff attorney provided notification of the settlement to the BCRC.  Presumably, the plaintiff and attorney had received a copy of an earlier Conditional Payment Letter.  Within a few weeks after the settlement notification was provided, the BCRC delivered a demand letter in the amount of $46,244.74, demanding payment within the standard 60 day time period  from the date of the demand and informing of the right to appeal its demand amount.

The attorney creatively filed a motion with a state court in Texas challenging the amount demanded by Medicare and provided notice of same to the BCRC.  He called the motion, Motion To Determine Portion of Plaintiff’s Settlement That Constitute Reimbursement of Medical Payments Made in and Regarding Settlement.  The court reviewed submitted evidence including an affidavit signed by plaintiff counsel suggesting the claim settled at 1/10th its full case value, and issued an order reducing the amount to be paid to Medicare by 90% to a figure of $4,700.00.  Plaintiff counsel submitted a copy of the order to the BCRC.  The full demand amount went unpaid and began accruing interest at nearly 10% APR on the 61st day post-demand (for current demands, the annual interest percentage rate is now over 10%).

As of March 18th, 2020, when the U.S. filed its recovery action in U.S. District Court, the alleged reimbursement amount had increased to $53,445.93 including interest. The U.S. requested recovery of its fees and costs but interestingly did not request double damages.

The U.S. Attorney’s position is that state courts lack authority to make determinations of federal law including amounts owned to Medicare under the Medicare Secondary Payer Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 1395y(b)(2) (MSP).   Furthermore the complaint asserts that because there is an administrative procedure in place under the current MSP regulations, if the plaintiff and attorney disagreed with the demand amount, the administrative appeals process should have been followed, i.e. that there was a failure to exhaust administrative remedies, an express condition precedent to seek redress in U.S. District Court for appeal of Medicare Initial Determinations such as the amount of a demand or a denial of a waiver.

Take Aways

Dispute and Appeal
  • Review each conditional payment letter to verify each reimbursement claimed is injury related
  • Dispute all non-injury related claims in a timely manner before the matter settles or before CMS issues its final demand
  • If unhappy with a CMS reimbursement of conditional payment demand, consider appealing through CMS’s administrative appeals process
  • You have 120 days to request a first level appeal in writing

In the meantime, consider one of the other post demand dispute processes allowed that may offer your client relief from what you consider to be an unreasonable demand.  Depending on the outcome, the appeal may not be necessary.

Compromise Requests 
  • Requesting a compromise to the BCRC offering a sum certain to resolve the claim laying out arguments based in equity similar to the ones made to the state court judge in the case above and/or according to regulations governing compromises by the U.S. Government existing in the CFR
  • Compromise requests are forwarded by the BCRC to the applicable CMS Regional Office (RO) and a response is provided within 45 days of the BCRC’s receipt of the request
  • Responses will either be accepted, countered, or rejected
Waivers
  • If not happy with the response to the compromise request and if the financial condition of the plaintiff is such that they have a hard time meeting their day to day living expenses, a waiver request could be an alternative option
  • Waiver requests entail filling out a detailed Social Security Administration financial form called the SSA 632-BK
  • To make its decision, CMS will evaluate resources of the plaintiff, income, the amount of the settlement, outgoing expenses, and hardship factors and may take up to 120 days from start to finish so you need to be mindful of the appeal deadline for the original demand.

 

[1] January 2020 DOJ US Attorney https://www.medivest.com/philadelphia-based-personal-injury-law-firm-agrees-to-resolve-allegations-of-unpaid-medicare-debts/ Philadelphia plaintiff firm settles for $6,604.59,

Nov 2019  US Attorney General – Baltimore plaintiff firm settles with Medicare for $91,406.98

March 2019 DOJ US Attorney  – Maryland plaintiff firm settles with Medicare for $250k

June 2018 DOJ US Attorney – Philadelphia plaintiff firm settles with Medicare for $28k

 

2100 Alafaya Trail, Suite 201   •   Oviedo, FL 32765

Toll free: 877.725.2467   •   Fax: 407.971.4742  

Workers’ Compensation and Covid-19 – Update 2
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Workers’ Compensation and Covid-19 – Update 2

Click here for a downloadable copy of this blog

On March 20th, we discussed what actions Washington State’s Workers’ Compensation Agency was taking that would allow medical providers and injured workers to file claims for work related/industrial exposure to COVID-19. Since then, other states have also taken action and created new policies in regards to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Kentucky

Last month, Kentucky was one of the States that adopted policy to provide workers compensation benefits to healthcare workers and first responders exposed to COVID-19. On April 9th, 2020 Governor Andy Beshear of Kentucky extended the provision of those benefits to additional types of employees. In his executive order, Gov. Beshear ordered that an employee could receive temporary total disability (TTD) payments for the period of time that the employee was quarantined if that employee met certain criteria.

The burden of proof lies with the employee to show that the COVID-19 exposure was caused by the work conditions. The employee’s removal to quarantine has to be ordered by a physician.  If the employee can show the connection and removal by a physician, TTD payments can now be received for the quarantine period even if the employer denies liability.

The expanded list of those now eligible for TTD payments include healthcare workers, first responders, corrections officers, members of the military, activated National Guard, domestic violence shelter workers, child advocacy workers, rape crisis center staff, Department for Community based Services workers, grocery workers, postal service workers, and child care workers permitted by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to provide child care in a limited duration center during the State of Emergency.

Florida

Florida followed Washington and Kentucky, and as of the end of March, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis ordered the state’s Division of Risk Management (DRM) to review workers’ compensation claims submitted by state workers “required to interact with potentially infected individuals.” Those workers includes those employees known in Florida as “Frontline Workers“: law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, correctional officers, health-care workers, child safety investigators and Florida National Guardsmen.

The Florida League of Cities also announced in March that the Florida Municipal Insurance Trust would cover municipal first responders’ COVID-19 claims.

Illinois

This week, Illinois has taken a progressive step with the introduction of an emergency amendment to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission’s rules of evidence under Part 9030 titled Arbitration, establishing a rebuttable presumption of a causal connection between employment and contraction of COVID-19 for both First Responders and Frontline Workers who contract COVID-19 as a result of their employment.

This is different than any other state in terms of the burden of proof.  In most states, the burden is on the injured or ill worker to prove the causal connection.  In Illinois, at this time, the burden will be on the employer to rebut this presumption that the causation exists.

In Illinois and other states, attorneys representing injured workers should evaluate whether there may be new expanded coverage in their state for their clients who contract COVID-19 as a result of employment related activities. They should consider whether such coverage may exist under the respective state’s Workers’ Compensation statutes or any other state law that may apply.

Some states, like Illinois, also have an Occupational Diseases Act which could be applicable, and if so, would pay benefits based on rates established under the applicable version of Illinois’ Worker’s Compensation Act.

Changes in Workers’ Compensation and Liability Cases

COVID-19 has driven changes that affected both the Workers’ Compensation and Liability industries outside of state and local government regulation. For additional information how the Workers’ Compensation industry has been affected please click here, and to find out how the Liability industry has been affected follow this link.

We hope each of you stays safe at this time.  Medivest is fully functional during this period and ready to assist parties with MSP compliance and lien resolution services. For assistance in these matters please call us at 1.877.725.2467 or contact us here.

 

2100 Alafaya Trail, Suite 201   •   Oviedo, FL 32765

Toll free: 877.725.2467   •   Fax: 407.971.4742  

Workers’ Compensation Claims Being Filed Due to Contracting COVID-19/Coronavirus
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Workers’ Compensation Claims Being Filed Due to Contracting COVID-19/Coronavirus

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The state regulated Workers’ Compensation agency for Washington State has already set up online methods for medical providers and injured workers to file work related/industrial exposure claims for COVID-19/Coronavirus, and even added a hotline for injured workers to call to be able to report likely exposure to COVID-19/Coronavirus. Because COVID-19/Coronavirus is so new and so contagious, it is hard to predict how likely it will be that claims of work related exposure will be accepted by Workers’ Compensation carriers or Boards that hear appeals of denials of exposure claims.   Some factors the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries listed that should be considered before filing a claim are:

  • Was there an increased risk or greater likelihood of contracting the condition due to the worker's occupation (such as a first responder or health care worker)?
  • If not for their job, would the worker have been exposed to the virus or contracted the condition?
  • Can the worker identify a specific source or event during the performance of his or her employment that resulted in exposure to the new coronavirus (examples include a first responder or health care worker who has actually treated a patient with the virus)?

The Washington State online message suggests that “if the above criteria are not met, it is not necessary to file a Workers’ Compensation (WC) claim; however, a claim may still be filed if requested by the worker or if the provider is uncertain if the case meets the criteria.”  The site goes on to explain that instances where contraction of COVID-19 is only incidental to the workplace or common to all employment, giving an example of an office worker contracting the condition from a fellow employee, a claim for WC exposure to and contraction of COVID-19 would be denied.

Because WC is governed by state law, while the factors considered will likely be similar, the decision making resulting from the evaluation could vary state by state.

We hope the curve of exposure associated with this pandemic will flatten soon and we can get back to our ordinary lives, but in the meantime, we send positive thoughts and healthy wishes to all of our first responders, healthcare workers, service industry employees, and everyone else affected by this fast spreading virus!

Hospital Lien Collection Practices Case in Colorado (Medicare and Medicaid Beneficiaries Beware!)
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Hospital Lien Collection Practices Case in Colorado (Medicare and Medicaid Beneficiaries Beware!)

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A state appellate court in Colorado just held that hospitals in Colorado may forego billing Medicare or Medicaid even when an injured party is a Medicare or Medicaid beneficiary, and may proceed against the injured party as long as the hospital follows certain procedures. See Harvey v. Centura Health Corporation and Catholic Health Initiatives, — P.3d —- (2020) Court of Appeals No. 19CA0091 January 30, 2020*.

Those procedures are that the hospital must first submit charges to the “property and casualty insurer and primary medical payer of benefits available” to the injured person when that person is injured as a result of negligence or wrongful acts of another person, before filing a lien. The state appellate court clarified that neither Medicare nor Medicare are primary payers of medical benefits and because of this, held that Hospitals in Colorado do not need to bill Medicare and/or Medicaid before filing a lien.

Therefore, Colorado hospitals interested in collecting larger amounts of money than Medicare and/or Medicaid will pay will likely forego billing Medicare and/or Medicaid, and will put the at fault party on notice of its charges, will bill the liability carrier for the at fault party, and then proceed to file a lien against the injured party likely to receive a third party liability settlement.

Of course the charges must be related to the underlying third party liability injury and must be reasonable and necessary. So even if a Colorado hospital lien is perfected, the injured party has a right to dispute whether the charges are injury-related and to contest the reasonableness or necessity of the charges.

Call Medivest when your injured client is facing a hospital lien to allow our specialists to first determine if all of the requested charges are related to the underlying injury, and to negotiate with the lien holder or its recovery agent regarding the amount of reasonable and necessary charges. Don’t let your client pay unreasonable or unnecessary hospital bills even when a lien is filed!

*While this case has not been released for publication in permanent law reports and could be subject to a petition for rehearing in the Court of Appeals or for Certiori in the Supreme Court of Colorado, it is important to be aware of hospital practices in this regard.

Philadelphia-Based Personal Injury Law Firm Agrees to Resolve Allegations of Unpaid Medicare Debts
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Philadelphia-Based Personal Injury Law Firm Agrees to Resolve Allegations of Unpaid Medicare Debts

Today marks yet another case where a plaintiff firm has entered into a settlement with Medicare over failure to consider Medicare’s interest with conditional payments. Like previous cases, the law firm will be required to pay a lump sum to the US government. In addition, they must:

1. Name a person responsible for paying Medicare secondary payer debts
2. Train the employee to ensure that the firm pays these debts on a timely basis
3. Review any additional outstanding debts to ensure compliance
4. Provide written certifications of compliance.

More details can be found in the press release here.

Over the past year, there has been a clear trend showing Medicare being very intentional about enforcing the MSP in liability cases. This case is just the latest to go along with several other recent cases:

We all know the MSP explicitly names liability insurance as a primary plan. In conjunction with the most recent round of notifications from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regarding the release of a NPRM clarifying methods of protecting Medicare’s interests post settlement for liability cases, these recent settlements with plaintiff firms highlight Medicare’s intent to have parties to liability settlements protect Medicare’s interests in compliance with the MSP just as is expected in Workers’ Compensation claims.

Partner with Medivest to help uncover public benefits, diagnose, and prepare preservation and legal compliance plans prior to settlement. MSP compliance is an exercise in protecting Medicare’s past interests via the investigation and resolution of payment obligations regarding past payments made by Medicare or Medicare Advantage Plans (liens) and its future interests regarding expected medical treatment in the injured party’s future (MSAs). Let our nursing staff perform a medical review to project the injury related future medicals broken down into both Medicare covered and non-Medicare covered medicals. For Medicare or any case involving recovery claims by any public or private source, allow our lien resolution department to use its proprietary software and experience to confirm amounts being requested are injury related and negotiate reductions beyond the ordinary procurement costs typically allowed. For Medicare cases, there is no charge for the portion of the reduction associated with those procurement cost reductions. Let us support you on your next case.

What You Should Know About Post Settlement MSA Funds
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What You Should Know About Post Settlement MSA Funds

Are you self-administering your Medicare Set-Aside (MSA) funds or do you have a client doing so? If so, you are not alone. According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, Inc. (NCCI) recently published a research brief updating its 2014 study on Workers’ Compensation MSAs (WCMSAs) and WCMSA reviews and reported that, between 2010 and 2015, approximately ninety-eight percent (98%) of the Workers’ Compensation cases included in the over 10,000 case sample, settled with the injured worker choosing to self-administer their MSA funds. Due to the large percentage of injured workers opting to self-administer, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published a free downloadable, 31-page “Self-Administration Toolkit”, now in Version 1.3 which was updated on October 10, 2019.

If you’re a Claimant/Applicant/Petitioner’s attorney settling a WC case and your client is considering self-administration, below are a couple of blogs you may consider reading before deciding if self-administration is the best option.

CMS simply states that a competent administrator must be chosen to administer the MSA funds. The key word is competent, and it is the responsibility of the settling parties to deem whether the injured person is sufficiently competent to self-administer an MSA account. Below are a couple of scenarios regarding options for administration of MSA funds.

  • Injured Person Self-Administers his/her MSA Funds – The injured person handles his/her own MSA funds and assumes responsibility for handling the MSA funds per CMS’ guidelines for Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) compliance.
  • Engage a Professional Administrator – Engage a third-party professional administration company to administer the MSA funds, coordinate all aspects of billing, complete annual reporting to Medicare as needed, maintain accounting records, etc. The Administrator assumes responsibility for handling the funds per CMS’s guidelines for compliance. Per CMS’s guidelines, fees for professional administration cannot be deducted out of the corpus of the MSA funds.
  • Engage A Trustee – Engage a person or professional entity (like a bank or trust company) who manages property or assets that have been placed in a Trust (i.e. a Special Needs Trust (SNT)). Per CMS’s guidelines, fees for a trustee cannot be deducted out of the corpus of the MSA funds.
  • Appointed Guardian or Conservator – An individual that has been determined to be mentally or physically incapacitated by a court of law, or when a minor is in need of an adult to manage his/her property, a guardian or conservator may be appointed.

Post Settlement Tips for Self-Administration

  • Per CMS’ guidelines, do not co-mingle MSA funds with personal funds. Place the MSA funds into a separate, interest bearing, FDIC insured account.
  • Keep pertinent documents regarding the settlement in a safe place. You may need to refer to these documents for paying claims, if applicable. Examples include:

           o Executed Settlement
           o Power of Attorney
           o Conservator or Guardianship appointment
           o Trust documents
           o MSA Allocation Report / Life Care Plan / Medical Cost Projection Report
              or a report that was prepared and used in the settlement to determine
              and allocate the total future Medicare Set-Aside (MSA) funds.
           o CMS Approval Letter, applicable if the MSA was submitted to CMS for review
           o Accurate annual accounting, post settlement
           o Keep track of all post settlement expenses, receipts paid and copies of bills
           o Annual attestation letters, post settlement (these can now be submitted electronically)
           o Any correspondence from CMS, post settlement

  • Document Retention – How long should you keep settlement documents, CMS letters, etc? These documents you may want to keep for the life of your account. How long should you keep payments of medical bills, annual accounting, and yearly attestations? State laws generally govern how long medical records are to be retained. However, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996’s (HIPAA) administrative simplification rules require a covered entity, such as a physician billing Medicare, to retain required documentation for six years from the date of its creation or the date when it last was in effect, whichever is later. https://www.cms.gov/Outreach-and-Education/Medicare-Learning-Network-MLN/MLNMattersArticles/downloads/SE1022.pdf
  • What type of MSA funding arrangement was decided at the time of settlement? There are two types of MSA funding arrangements.
    1.    Lump Sum Funding – After settlement, a check for a one-time payment representing all future medical expenses that are injury related and Medicare allowable is issued.
    2.    Structured Annuity Funding – A combination of a check for the initial deposit or seed money used to fund the MSA. The amount of the seed deposit typically includes the first surgical procedure or replacement and the equivalent of two years of annual funds along with the yearly annuity payment beginning on the 1-year anniversary of settlement. Note: Medicare recognizes a structured settlement annuity as a viable method of funding MSAs. Medicare will become the primary payer of injury-related medical expenses, once documentation is provided showing the MSA funds were spent appropriately and there is no other available primary coverage to pay for injury-related Medicare covered medical expenses – until the next upcoming annuity payment has been deposited into the MSA account. For topics unique to Structured WCMSA Accounts, please refer to this link.
  • Before the injured person’s case settles, the WC claims adjuster typically will have paid for medical treatments and prescription medication that were related to the injury. After settlement occurs, the MSA funds should be used to pay injury-related and Medicare allowable expenses from the settlement date forward until exhausted.
  • If you are a Medicare beneficiary, you will need to continue to pay Medicare premiums, co-payments, and deductible amounts. Medicare updates its plans, premium costs, and coverage on a yearly basis. Each year, Medicare publishes a free downloadable handbook called “Medicare and You”.
  • If the injured person is Medicare eligible, he/she can add coverage to or change his/her plan during Medicare’s Open Enrollment period. The Open Enrollment period would not have an impact on their MSA Funds that they are currently self-administering. Every year, Medicare’s Open Enrollment period begins October 15th and ends December 7th for most Medicare plans. For Medicare Advantage plans, open enrollment runs from January 1st through February 14th. Medicare has designed a Medicare Plan Finder which it describes as a convenient way to compare coverage options, shop for plans, and feel confident about the coverage choices Medicare enrollees make. It also lets Medicare beneficiaries build and track their drug list to determine the best Part D (prescription drug) plan that meets their medical needs, including the display of lower-cost generic alternatives. Some details regarding Medicare Advantage Plans can be reviewed by clicking this link so you can compare covered benefits.
  • Medicare-Certified Providers – When choosing providers to receive care, consideration should be given whether the providers will be able to bill Medicare in the event MSA funds have either temporarily or permanently exhausted (depleted), or in the event a Medicare beneficiary may need Medicare covered treatment that is not injury related. If a provider cannot file claims to Medicare, the Medicare beneficiary may be billed for services in select circumstances. To locate providers that are Medicare-certified, please click here.
  • Reimbursement of Medicare Conditional Payments before and after settlement. If Medicare pays for care related to your injury, it may be doing so on the condition that Medicare will later be reimbursed for such payments. More information about Medicare’s right to recovery may be found here.
  • At the end of each year, interest earned on MSA funds will need to be identified as interest income generated from the MSA account for the prior tax year. Under CMS’ guidelines, the interest earned is to be deposited and remain in the MSA account to pay only for Medicare allowable expenses related to the injury, or used for other allowable purposes, such as to cover banking fees related to the account, mailing/postage fees related to the account, miscellaneous related document copying charges, and income tax on interest income from the MSA account.

Mismanaged MSA Funds

  • During the pre-settlement phase, the pricing of medical items and services for most MSA allocation reports are prepared using Workers’ Compensation state fee schedules for the state where the injury occurs. For liability cases, those medical items and services are priced at the Usual and Customary rate for the geographic region. For both WC and liability cases, prescription drug expenses are typically priced at Average Wholesale Pricing (AWP). Injured parties might not subscribe to or otherwise access the AWP pricing rates or state fee schedule rates and could end up paying for medical treatment or prescriptions drugs at amounts higher than they should.
  • When the injured person mistakenly pays for a non-Medicare allowable expense out of the MSA account, Medicare reserves the right to deny all injury-related Medicare covered claims until the MSA funds have been replenished or the injured worker can demonstrate appropriate usage equal to the full amount of the MSA.
  • If a provider mistakenly sends the bill to Medicare when it should have been paid out of a MSA account, the claim may be denied by Medicare and this could lead to CMS initiating an audit of the MSA funds.
  • Medicare may accidentally pay for an injury-related claim when it should have been paid out of the MSA account. The injured person may end up being billed or charged for the Medicare copay, coinsurance, or deductible amount, and later, still have to reimburse Medicare from the MSA funds.

When considering all the factors described above, doesn’t it make sense to strongly consider the use of a professional administrator? Also, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published in the WCMSA Reference Guide, that professional administration is highly recommended.

Simply put, Professional Administration makes sense. If you are an attorney or an injured person who has questions regarding switching from self-administration to professional administration, Medivest is here to answer any questions you may have.

Medicare Liens – Protecting Medicare’s Past Interests – The First Step of Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) Compliance for The Plaintiff Attorney
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Medicare Liens – Protecting Medicare’s Past Interests – The First Step of Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) Compliance for The Plaintiff Attorney

Note: If you would like to read the edited version of this article as it appears in Advocate Magazine you can download a copy of it here.

A. How and When Medicare Liens Arise

Under the Medicare Secondary Payer Act, found at 42 U.S.C. §1395y(b) (MSP), Medicare has a right to be reimbursed for payments it has made for a Medicare beneficiary’s medical treatment when the Medicare beneficiary is compensated for the treated injury by a third-party source. While Medicare’s rights to recovery under the MSP are so strong that they have been described as a super lien, that does not mean that your client has to always pay the full amount requested by Medicare.

The MSP right to reimbursement includes both a direct statutory right and a subrogation right, with a variety of recovery remedies available to the U.S. Government. In some jurisdictions, similar MSP recovery rights extend to privately administered Medicare benefits under Part C (Medicare Advantage Organizations or MAO’s) and Part D Prescription Drug Plans via the MSP’s private cause of action provision. The recovery rights described exist without regard to the date of service for the medical items, services, or expenses (medicals). Most attorneys know that they should check to see if traditional Medicare or a MAO has paid for medicals related to a compensated injury and address paying the amount or negotiating payment for same from the settlement proceeds. This article will explore ways to secure satisfactory lien resolution, focusing on traditional Medicare liens.

It should be noted that if a Medicare beneficiary begins billing Medicare or a MAO for injury related medicals after the settlement date/date compensated for the tort claim, recovery rights associated with those post settlement medicals exist in the same way that recovery rights exist for pre-settlement injury related Medicare covered medicals. Under such a post settlement scenario, the need for a Medicare lien investigation and resolution could essentially start all again.

B. Medicare Secondary Payer statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b) (MSP)

1. History of the Medicare Act and the Medicare Secondary Payer Act.

a. Background and Scope – Both arise from the Social Security Act of 1935. Medicare is a federally funded single payer national healthcare insurance administered by the U.S. federal government, through the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) under authority of the Social Security Act of 1935. Medicare is funded by a payroll tax, premiums and surtaxes from beneficiaries, and general revenue. HHS delegates running the Medicare program and interpreting Medicare law and implementing regulations to the law to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Medicare covers medical expenses not on the list of exclusions found in 42 U.S.C. §1395y(a)(1) typically for U.S. Citizens (although exceptions exist allowing eligibility for some non-US Citizens as well), who are 65 and older, or younger than 65 with disability status determined by the Social Security Administration as well as people with end stage renal disease (ESRD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease). It is made up of parts such as Part A (mainly inpatient hospital insurance and skilled nursing care) and Part B (doctor visits, durable medical equipment, outpatient hospital care and some physical and occupational therapy and some home health care), the two together are known as traditional Medicare; Part C, covering Part A and B services but administered by private insurers; and Part D, covering Prescription Drug Plans (PDPs) that are also administered by private insurers.

b. SSDI is for people who qualify under the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability. SSDI payments start about 5-6 months after SSDI eligibility is determined depending on the date eligibility is first established. Individuals approved for SSDI also become eligible and qualify for Medicare two years after they begin receiving the SSDI payments. Both SSDI and Medicare are entitlement-based in contrast with Medicaid and SSI, that are largely needs-based.

c. Since the Medicare law’s inception in 1965, Medicare has been secondary to Workers’ Compensation. Therefore, if an injury occurred while at work, the Workers’ Compensation carrier would take responsibility for payment of those injury related medicals in accordance with the applicable state statutory rates and procedures. However, in 1965, there was no provision in the law pertaining to payment of medical bills related to liability claims for injured Medicare beneficiaries. Therefore, Medicare would (most often) pay for all medical treatment within its scope, leaving private insurers (other insurance) to work out who would cover non-Medicare covered services.

2. The Medicare Secondary Payer Act (MSP) was Enacted in 1980.

a. In 1980, the Medicare Secondary Payer Statute (MSP) was enacted. 42 U.S.C. §1395y(b) et seq. is commonly called the MSP Act or MSP Statute and is also referred to as the Medicare Secondary Payer provisions of the Social Security Act (SSA). While it has different statutory references, it is the same law and has parallel sequences of each number and letter after the section 1395y or 1862 as follows: 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b) = 42 U.S.C. §1862(b) of the SSA.

b. The MSP mandates Medicare to be a secondary payer to other forms of health insurance such as group health plans (GHPs), as well as other payment sources such as non-group health plans (NGHPs) when these primary plans are responsible for payment.

c. A “primary plan” is defined in 42 U.S.C. §1395y(b)(2)(A) to mean “a group health plan or large group health plan to the extent that clause (i) applies, and – a workers’ compensation law or plan, – an automobile or liability insurance policy or plan (including a self-insured plan) – or no fault insurance, to the extent that clause (ii) applies. An entity that engages in a business, trade or profession shall be deemed to have a self-insured plan if it carries its own risk (whether by a failure to obtain insurance, or otherwise) in whole or in part. 42 U.S.C. 1395y(b)(2)(A)(ii).”

d. All plans other than the group health or large group health plans are categorized by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) as Non Group Health Plans (NGHPs). While the MSP applies to Group Health matters, it is in the NGHP area that the MSP compliance industry focuses its attention. NGHPs are those entities that demonstrate obligations of payment as primary payers by either statute (think workers’ compensation or no fault insurance) or by virtue of resolution of claims through settlement, judgment, award or other payment (think liability matters), regardless of whether liability is admitted. Most liability releases specifically deny liability for alleged liability claims. The payment obligation that triggers the MSP arises in the tort scenario when payment is made. There are no defenses listed in the MSP associated with how the demonstration of the obligation arises; when a party begins to make payments under a statute or contract for insurance such as workers’ compensation or under the state’s no fault law under terms of an insurance contract, or when a party settles a liability case, the payment obligation is “demonstrated” and the party responsible for payment is by the MSP, primary to Medicare.

e. The MSP was enacted to curb the rising costs of Medicare and designed to make insurers responsible for payment of injury related treatment primary payers and Medicare, the secondary payer. See Humana Medical Plan, Inc. v. Western Heritage Insurance Company, 832 F.3d 1229, 1234 (11th Cir. 2016). Regulations interpreting the MSP are found at 42 C.F.R. §411 et. seq.

f. To accomplish the goal of curbing Medicare costs, the MSP general rule – 42 U.S.C. §1395y(b)(2)(A) – prohibits Medicare from making payment when a primary plan should make the payment. Specifically, a Medicare payment may not be made
“to the extent that –
(i) payment has been made, or can reasonably be expected to be made, with respect to the item or service as required under paragraph (1) [pertaining to GHPs], or
(ii) payment has been made or can reasonably be expected to be made under a workmen’s compensation law or plan of the United States or a State or under an automobile or liability insurance policy or plan (including a self-insured plan) or under no-fault insurance.”

g. There is only one exception to the prohibition of Medicare making payment when there is a primary payer that should make the payment. The exception authorizes Medicare to make payments called conditional payments if a primary plan “has not made or cannot reasonably be expected to make payment with respect to such item or service promptly.” 42 U.S.C. §1395y(b)(2)(B)(i).

  • Prompt or promptly, when used in connection with primary payments, except as provided in § 411.50, for payments by liability insurers, means payment within 120 days after receipt of the claim. 42 C.F.R. § 411.21.
  • Under 42 C.F.R. §411.50, prompt or promptly, when used in connection with payment by a liability insurer means payment within 120 days after the earlier of the following:
    (1) The date a claim is filed with an insurer or a lien is filed against a potential liability settlement.
    (2) The date the service was furnished or, in the case of inpatient hospital services, the date of discharge. 42 C.F.R. § 411.50

The payments allowed to be made by Medicare are considered “conditioned on reimbursement” to Medicare by the primary plan. These payments could occur either before a settlement or after a settlement so settling parties should always address and make sure to resolve conditional payments a/k/a Medicare liens that arose prior to settlement from the settlement proceeds (even if negotiated to a compromised/reduced number) and additionally, due to the MSP, settling parties should also consider how to avoid conditional Medicare payments after a settlement.

h. Congress enacted the MSP provisions to address enforcement of Medicare as a secondary payer to WC and included the various other types of insurance as primary plans at that time.

i. Between 1980 and 2001, there was very little enforcement of the MSP.

j. CMS Memos of note. In July 2001, CMS issued the Patel memo which mentioned Medicare Set-Asides (MSAs) for the first time. In 2011 – the Stalcup Memo from the Dallas CMS Regional Office was the first time liability MSAs (LMSA’s) were mentioned in a CMS memo with the most detailed guidance on CMS’s position of a need to consider and protect Medicare’s interests for liability as well as Workers’ Compensation settlements to protect the Medicare Trust Funds in a manner consistent with the MSP.

k. The MSP gives Medicare both direct “lien rights” (42 U.S.C. §1395y(b)(2)(B)(iii)) to be able to collect its conditional payments as well as subrogation rights whereby the MSP subrogates the United States to “any right under this subsection of an individual or any other entity to payment with respect to such item or service under a primary plan.” 42 U.S.C. §1395y(b)(2)(B)(iv). This can be an important distinction when it comes to how CMS and courts interpret whether and to what extent an apportionment calculation may be performed to the outstanding conditional payment amount by discounting procurement costs including attorney’s fees and costs in securing the settlement, judgment or award. Actions by the U.S. on behalf of HHS/CMS via the MSP’s direct right of recovery (through the Department of Treasury or potentially the Department of Justice) against entities responsible for payment or those that have received some of the settlement proceeds is separate from its right of subrogation to recover reimbursement of Medicare conditional payments. The MSP’s direct right of recovery has in some cases been interpreted to not be limited by the equitable principle of apportionment stemming from the subrogation right. See Social Security Act, § 1862(b)(1), (b)(2)(B)(ii), as amended, 42 U.S.C.A. § 1395y(b)(1), (b)(2)(B)(ii); 42 C.F.R. § 411.24(c). Zinman v. Shalala, 67 F.3d 841 C.A.9 (Cal.1995).
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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.

Updates on CMS’ Self-Administration Toolkit for Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside Arrangements
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Updates on CMS’ Self-Administration Toolkit for Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside Arrangements

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released Version 1.3 of the Self-Administration Toolkit for Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside Arrangements (WCMSAs) on October 10, 2019. The latest Self-Administration Toolkit Version 1.3 is now available to download here. Furthermore, the newest version 5.9 of the WCMSAP User Guide was updated on October 7, 2019. That can be accessed here. It contains updates similar to those found in the updates to the Self-Administration Toolkit discussed in this article.

The three most notable changes included in Version 1.3 are as follows:

1.  A new method for submitting annual attestations electronically via the WCMSA portal (WCMSAP).

Section 8: Annual Attestation – of the Self-Administration Toolkit conformed its language to that of the WCMSA Reference Guide, Section 19.2 titled Death of The Claimant, and can be viewed here. Now, self-administering claimants can access and submit attestations via the same WCMSAP web portal that professional administrators use.

If you are a beneficiary administering your own account, you can submit your year attestation online by accessing the WCMSA Portal through the MyMedicare.gov website.

If you are a representative or other identified administrator for the account, you can log in directly to the WCMSA Portal to submit the yearly attestation. To access, go to https://www.cob.cms.hhs.gov/WCMSA/login

The WCMSAP User Guide, available under the Reference Materials header once you log in to the site, has details regarding the submission of attestations online.

CMS will be hosting two (2) webinars regarding the recent WCMSAP enhancements which will allow Medicare beneficiaries or their representatives to submit annual attestations electronically for approved WCMSAs.

  1. Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside (WCMSA) Electronic Attestation Enhancement Webinar. Click here for more information regarding this seminar taking place on Wednesday, October 30, 2017 at 1:00pm EST.
  2. Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside (WCMSA) Electronic Attestation Enhancement for Professional Administrators. Click here for more information regarding this seminar
    taking place on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 at 1:00pm EST.

 

2.  A more detailed description of why WCMSA accounts are kept open for a period of time after the death of the Medicare beneficiary when WCMSA funds have not permanently exhausted.

Section 10: Inheritance – Added language regarding notifying the BCRC when death of the Medicare beneficiary occurs before the WCMSA is permanently exhausted. A summary follows: In such cases, the respective Medicare Regional Office (RO) and the BCRC will coordinate to help ensure all timely filed bills related to the WC claim have been paid. This may involve keeping the WCMSA account open for some time after the date of death, as health care providers can submit their bills to Medicare up to 12 months after the date of service. Any remaining WCMSA funds may be paid in accordance with the respective state law and administration agreement if applicable, once Medicare’s interests have been protected. Often the settlement itself will state how to spend funds after the death of the claimant and payment of care-related expenses.

 

3.  Updated mailing addresses for the Benefits Coordination and Recovery Center (BCRC)

Section 12: Where to Get Help – The mailing address to where WCMSA Proposals, Final Settlements, and Re-Review Requests are to be sent was updated to be consistent with the current WCMSA Reference Guide. That address is:

WCMSA Proposal/Final Settlement
P.O. Box 13889
Oklahoma City, OK 73113-8899

On Page 18 of the Self-Administration Toolkit

The mailing address for situations when the WCMSAP or MyMedicare.gov portals are not being used, self-administering claimants may submit attestations yearly account attestations and expenditure letters to the following address:

NGHP
P.O. Box 138832
Oklahoma City, OK 73113

 

Medivest will continue to monitor changes occurring at CMS and will keep its readers up to date when such changes are announced. For questions, feel free to reach out to the Medivest representative in your area by clicking here or call us direct at 877.725.2467.

Why You Should Not Ignore Medicare’s Interests in Your Liability Settlements

Why You Should Not Ignore Medicare’s Interests in Your Liability Settlements

Protecting Medicare’s interests in a settlement is a legal requirement. In 1980 Congress enacted the Medicare Secondary Payer Statute (42 U.S.C. 1395y(b) or MSP), giving Medicare rights as a “Secondary Payer”. While the MSP does not specifically state how a party should protect Medicare’s future interests, the MSP law prohibits Medicare from making a payment where there is a primary payer involved but provides one exception for what is known as conditional payments. Medicare may make a payment under certain circumstances when a primary payer is involved such as a liability carrier or self-insured, and the primary payer has not yet demonstrated its payment obligation by settling a case or paying a judgment. These payments are called conditional payments because the Medicare payment is conditioned upon being reimbursed by the primary payer. The right to reimbursement is a direct statutory right of the U.S. for recovery of conditional payments, that carries steep interest assessments over 10% for demands not paid within 60 days and when left unpaid, can lead to recovery of double damages in litigation. The MSP also provides a right of subrogation where the U.S. is subrogated to the rights that Medicare beneficiaries have. It is important to know that along with the rights of the U.S. under traditional Medicare, which encompasses Medicare Part A and Part B, Medicare Advantage Plans also known as Medicare Advantage Organizations (Medicare Part C), and Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans, may assert a private cause of action under the MSP against primary payers and in some cases, those who receive payment from primary payers.

The MSP outlines what plans are deemed primary to Medicare. These plans or types of insurance are auto insurance, liability insurance including self-insured plans, workers’ compensation and no-fault insurance. Collectively, these are referred to as Non-Group Health Plans or NGHP. Medicare’s interests in a settlement applies not only to past payments (think Medicare liens) but to future medicals as well. When describing conditional payments and the right of the government to reimbursement, the MSP does not distinguish between pre-settlement conditional payments and post-settlement conditional payments. Therefore, Medicare’s rights to recovery may apply to post-settlement conditional payments anytime Medicare is prematurely billed for injury related medicals after settlement. In the Workers’ Compensation context, the policy of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), as the agency that runs Medicare, traditionally has looked to the employer or insurance carrier for the employer as the debtor for reimbursement of conditional payments arising prior to settlement. In the liability context, the Medicare beneficiary is considered the debtor for conditional payments. Because the MSP allows recovery from both the primary payer and any person or entity that receives payment from a primary payer such as the contingency fee of an attorney being paid from settlement proceeds, attorneys need to be aware of how to protect not only their clients but themselves from collection actions under the MSP.

Completing a Medicare lien investigation and reimbursing Medicare for past payments related to a claim is what most parties will do to consider Medicare’s past interests in a case. However, the most frequently overlooked piece when settling a liability claim is determining how much of the settlement money is being paid to compensate for future medicals and of that amount, how much of that would ordinarily be covered by Medicare. In other words, some trial attorneys may look at all the available damages when proceeding with a case but may not realize that they should also demonstrate a consideration of Medicare’s future interests regarding the future medicals. The repercussions of not addressing Medicare’s future interests in a case could result in Medicare denying payments for case related medical items, services, and/or expenses. This is Medicare’s primary enforcement mechanism post settlement. If done properly, actions taken during the representation of the injured plaintiff (whether enrolled in Medicare at the time of the representation or not) will help ensure that the injured Medicare beneficiary will have funds available to get the treatment they need and future Medicare entitlement for case-related body parts. Protecting Medicare, and the Medicare beneficiary, is a long-term play.

There are several options regarding how to consider Medicare in a settlement. The options will largely depend on the details of the case and there is not a single method that can be applied across the board. The Medicare Set-Aside (MSA) allocation is used frequently on workers’ compensation claims as a method to estimate Medicare’s future interests in a case. Medicare has offered guidance and put in place a voluntary submission process by which they will review MSA allocations that meet certain workload review threshold categories and will issue an approval (or counter approval) on the proposed amount. CMS, as the sub agency under DHHS that runs the Medicare program, publishes a WCMSA Reference Guide that outlines the format for MSA allocation reports and what information should be provided to have the MSA reviewed. Even though there is a well-established process for review of WCMSAs, there is no law requiring the completion of a MSA allocation on a WC case or any case.

As of July 2019, Medicare has avoided setting up a formalized process for review of liability MSAs and has not issued formal guidance or regulations regarding liability MSAs. It is this lack of guidance or a formalized process (like there is in WC) that has led many to believe they do not need to be concerned with Medicare’s future interests in a case. The general approach is to determine whether Medicare made conditional payments pre-settlement and if so, pay the pre-settlement Medicare lien (or negotiate it to satisfactory resolution), and close out the case. This approach is only the first step in adequately addressing and protecting Medicare’s interests. If you only consider Medicare’s past interests, you are placing you and your clients at risk.

Medicare will actually be aware of the case and the associated injuries. They are tracking this information via the MSP’s Mandatory Insurer Reporting (MIR) provision that comes out of Public Law Section 111 and is most commonly known as Section 111 reporting. Section 111 reporting is codified in the MSP under 42 U.S.C. §1395y(b)(8) and establishes MIR for either ongoing payment obligations or total payment obligations demonstrated by payments made by auto insurance, liability insurance including self-insureds, workers’ compensation plans or insurance, or no-fault insurance. If payment of over $750 is made regarding a claim of an individual who is a Medicare beneficiary, the primary payer (source of funds) is required to electronically report the amount of the payment, the date of the payment, the name of the Medicare beneficiary, date of the incident, and all the medical codes associated with the claimed injury (sometimes referred to as the Big 5), and a huge number of other data fields to Medicare. The information becomes integrated into what is known as the common working file for that Medicare claimant. Medicare places electronic markers for the claimant and for the medical codes (ICDs and CPTs) associated with the claimed injury. This information is ultimately used to “track the case” to ensure that Medicare is reimbursed for past payments (liens) and to help Medicare avoid making payments for future medical care related to the case for which it is not the primary payer. Medicare uses this information to monitor the file, check for unpaid liens, and notify parties of discrepancies. The MSP initially described penalties of $1000 per day per claim but was later amended in 2012 with the SMART Act and now describes financial penalties of “up to $1,000 per day per claimant” for noncompliance of any primary payer. CMS has not yet promulgated regulations regarding exactly how civil money penalties will be assessed and whether there will be safe-harbors for bona fide errors associated with the reporting process.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) provided indications in December of last year that CMS will be providing two Notices of Proposed Rulemakings (NPRMs) related to the enforcement of the MSP. Each are scheduled to be issued no later than September 2019. While the first could relate to any NGHP cases, because WC already has both regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations addressing Workers’ Compensation cases as well as a Reference Guide concerning WCMSAs, and no-fault claims don’t typically have future obligations, many in the industry have surmised that this first rulemaking will address protecting Medicare’s future interests in liability cases and putting back on the table the adoption of regulations or at least guidance (like a LMSA Reference Guide) on a possible review and approval process with workload review thresholds for CMS review of Liability Medicare Set-Asides (LMSAs). The second NPRM that is scheduled for the same time period will relate to the civil monetary penalties associated with non-compliance with Section 111 reporting. Once these two NPRMs are released, the best practice compliance behaviors for parties on both sides of liability cases should become even more clear.

Medicare’s primary enforcement mechanism regarding protection of Medicare’s future interests and the Medicare Trust Funds is denial of payments for medicals related to compensated third party injuries. However, what happens when Medicare’s computer system doesn’t catch a body part or claim previously compensated in a third-party settlement? Anytime and every time Medicare pays for those injury related medicals when it should not have, those conditional payments accrue as a growing collection action on behalf of Medicare. Our company has seen demands for payment that have included requests for reimbursement of post settlement medicals. We have also seen an uptick in recovery actions by the Department of Justice concerning collection of conditional payments. In March of 2019, a law firm in Maryland agreed to pay $250,000 to resolve a Medicare conditional payment demand on a case where the firm had already disbursed net settlement proceeds to its client. Last June, it was a law firm in Philadelphia that reached settlement with the Department of Justice to reimburse Medicare for conditional payments that were not paid out of trust and had already been disbursed to the client. Just because a plaintiff’s medicals might have been paid for by Medicare after a settlement in the past, does not mean that Medicare won’t deny those items or services in the future, or that it won’t demand repayment when it determines it made conditional payments. Imagine what could happen if Medicare began searching every single payment it makes and brushing that payment up against every settlement over $750 reported by insurance carriers. This is the future and could lead to some eye-popping dollar figures related to parties and legal representatives that failed to pay past Medicare liens and regularly fail to prevent future Medicare liens.

We should also not lose sight of the fact that if an injured individual does not set aside funds for injury related Medicare covered medicals and settlement funds are no longer available, that individual may not be able to get the treatment they need. Sadly, we often see that the MSA funds are the only funds remaining after about five years following a settlement. On a positive note, if MSA funds are exhausted and exhausted properly with the attestations and accounting that CMS likes to see, Medicare will typically step in and become the primary payer for those case related items going forward. Even though there is no law requiring the preparation of a MSA allocation, it is the safest and most conservative approach that can be taken. The injured party will obtain a detailed report outlining anticipated future medical care costs that are normally covered by Medicare. Along with a non-qualified report that typically comes along with a MSA allocation, you will have a better economic picture of all items, services and expenses reasonably expected in the injured plaintiff’s future. Obviously there will often be cases with such significant injuries and accommodations to living and transportation that could also benefit from an evaluation by an economist to take inflation into consideration and Life Care Plans that examines case management costs and some other costs that may not be evaluated in a MSA to help round out the best evidence to build your client’s case.

With a healthy respect for the extraordinary reach of the MSP, if the MSA funds administered are the total amount of funds projected in a LMSA and CMS is notified of the settlement and the amount of the MSA (different from asking CMS to review a LMSA), chances are less likely that there will either be a denial of the payment of post settlement injury related Medicare covered medicals after proper exhaustion or that post-settlement conditional payments would ever arise. Of course, when LMSAs are apportioned, questions abound whether Medicare may ever demand exhaustion of a full projected MSA versus an apportioned dollar amount that takes various factors into consideration of why a liability case may settle for less than full value. We could receive some indication of answers once regulations are promulgated regarding liability futures. However, in the meantime, a MSA allocation offers valuable protections regardless of whether an apportionment is calculated, because the MSA helps limit the extent of Medicare’s reach into a settlement. Without it, the default position taken by CMS for liability cases is that without a plan for future care, the entire settlement will be treated as the amount compensated for as future Medicals. Therefore, CMS would look for the entire value of the settlement to be exhausted in payment of future Medicals before Medicare would pick up coverage for that injury. Contemplating the MSA allocation in the settlement and making sure MSA funds are spent according to Medicare guidelines via professional administration is the safest and most conservative approach that can be taken to not only protect Medicare’s interests in a case, but to protect an attorney and their client from collection actions by CMS, helping to provide peace of mind for your injured clients.

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)).

Medicare Advantage Plan MSP Private Cause of Action Suits – Eleventh Circuit Update
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Medicare Advantage Plan MSP Private Cause of Action Suits – Eleventh Circuit Update

Medicare Advantage Plan MSP Private Cause of Action Lawsuit Update

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

On March 18, 2019, in MSPA Claims 1, LLC v. Tenet Florida, Inc., the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals made it clear that while Medicare law as a whole and the Medicare Secondary Payer Act (MSP)[1] provisions in particular may be confusing, the MSP’s private cause of action provision [2] is clear[3]. MSPA Claims 1 (MSPA) appealed its dismissal by Defendant Tenet at the district court level in the Southern District of Florida. Because some changes had taken place since the dismissal, the appellate court indicated that MSPA was on solid legal footing if it had sued a primary plan instead of a medical provider. The take away of the Tenet case is that Medicare beneficiaries or entities such as Medicare Advantage Plans/Medicare Advantage Organizations (MAOs) that wish to bring private cause of action claims under the MSP may not bring those claims against medical providers and must only bring those MSP private cause of action double damages (MSP PCOA) claims against primary plans that fail to timely pay or reimburse the aggrieved party.

As a reminder, the MSP makes Medicare secondary to all primary plans including both Group Health Plans and Non Group Health Plans. Non Group Health Plan primary plans include Automobile Insurers, Liability Insurance (including Self Insurance),Workers’ Compensation (WC) Plans or Insurance, and No Fault Insurance.

In many other MSP PCOA MAO cases that have been reported, MAO’s have typically sued primary plans that failed to pay. Most courts that have evaluated the issue of the right of the MAO’s to bring MSP PCOA claims have acknowledged the right of MAO’s or their assigns to bring MSP PCOA claims against primary plans. By contrast, the Tenet case involved an assignee of a MAO that sued a medical provider. The dismissal of MSPA at the district court level for this case focused on deficiencies in MSPA’s assignment chain and not on which entity could be sued under the MSP private cause of action. The key MSP PCOA language that was analyzed in the Tenet case is as follows:

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).

Comparing the limitations associated with the private cause of action with the public cause of action granted by the U.S. government in the MSP, the Eleventh Circuit clarified in Tenet that “[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.” Id. (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)). This means that while providers, attorneys, Medicare beneficiaries, or other entities that receive payment from a primary plan can be sued by the U.S. under the MSP for double damages, only primary plans themselves can be sued under the MSP PCOA.

Before reaching its decision, the Tenet court went through an analysis to confirm subject matter jurisdiction by determining whether MSPA had standing to pursue the claim. To that end, MSPA would need to show that it suffered an injury-in-fact, that was fairly traceable to the defendant’s conduct, and which was redressable by a favorable judicial decision. Id. at 2. The underlying federal claim revolved around the failure of the provider, Tenet, to pay a $286 medical bill on time. The bill was eventually paid approximately seven months late. Interestingly, the Eleventh Circuit explained that late payment was enough to show a concrete “injury-in-fact”. The Tenet court also explained why the assignment hurdles that had stopped MSPA at the district court level had been overcome at the time of the court’s decision. The district court evaluated the two-level assignment chain when the assignment chain was weak because the assignor, Florida Healthcare Plus (FHCP), had entered receivership proceedings and previously repudiated its assignment to La Ley, the entity that assigned the MSP PCOA claim to MSPA. The Eleventh Circuit in Tenet explained that just one week before its decision, FHCP entered into a settlement agreement with La Ley and MSPA that confirmed La Ley’s assignment of FHCP’s claim to MSPA and fully resolved the MSP Act assignment. Id. at 4. The court also dispelled Defendant/Appellee Tenet’s notion that an anti-assignment clause in a Hospital Services Agreement with assignee FHCP concerning the prohibition to assign hospital services would apply to the right of FHCP to assign its right (it received from the MAO) to La Ley that in turn assigned to MSPA the right to bring the MSP PCOA claim.

The Eleventh Circuit used established statutory interpretation rules to reach its final decision. MSPA argued that because paragraph (2)(A) that the private cause of action references makes a cross-reference to paragraph (2)(B), which establishes MSP conditional payment reimbursement and recovery (see MSP recovery actions by the U.S. and information on Medicare lien resolution and the new electronic payment functionality of the Medicare Secondary Payer Recovery Portal) rights, those recovery right concepts from paragraph (2)(B) should be incorporated back into the private cause of action. Essentially, MSPA was arguing that because other entities that receive payments from primary plans had obligations to reimburse Medicare for conditional payments and (2)(B) applies those recovery rights to this larger number of entities (“any entity that receives payment from a primary plan”), that the MSP PCOA could also be brought against any such entity that received a payment from a primary plan. This cross reference within a cross reference argument was shot down by the Tenet court as a “stretch.” Id. at 6. Alternatively, MSPA asked the court to rule in its favor based on authority from CMS promulgated regulations that afford MAOs the same MSP recovery rights as Medicare including the right to sue medical providers. Id. at 6 (citing 42 C.F.R.§§411.24(g), 422.108(f)). However, the Tenet court found the MSP statute to be clear and unambiguous and therefore, determined it unnecessary to look to the less authoritative CMS regulations for help with its interpretation of the MSP. Id. at 6. Because neither defendant was a primary plan, MSPA’s claim was dismissed.

2. MSPA Claims 1, LLC v. Infinity Property & Casualty Group, 2019 WL 1238852 (N.D. Al. March 18, 2019).

This second case was decided on the same day as the Tenet case but was heard at the federal trial level in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Alabama. This court falls within the same appellate jurisdiction (Eleventh Circuit) that decided the Tenet case. The same MSPA plaintiff discussed in the Tenet case above filed suit as an assignee of two different MAO’s on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries identified with their initials as representative examples (exemplars) for each of the two MAO’s. The asserted claims were MSP PCOA claims against insurance company, Infinity Property & Casualty Group, an undisputed primary payer. If the facts in this Infinity case were the same as those in the Tenet case except that the Defendant in this Infinity case was a primary payer instead of a medical provider, the case would have not been dismissed. However, the facts in this case were distinguishable from those of the Tenet case beyond who was sued. In the first claim of the Infinity case, MSPA was found by the court to have failed to show that Florida Healthcare Plus (FHCP – the same entity that was involved in a chain of assignments in the Tenet case), a MAO, had paid any medical bill connected to a claim of the exemplar Medicare beneficiary identified as D.W. The court seemed perturbed in announcing that Plaintiff MSPA knew what the court required but “due to a lack of either diligence or ability” failed to produce it. MSPA Claims 1, LLC v. Infinity Property & Casualty Group, 2019 WL 1238852 at 7 (N.D. Al. March 18, 2019). Without the connection to show that the MAO made a payment on behalf of the Medicare beneficiary, the Infinity court declared MSPA lacked standing to bring the claim.

The second claim of the Infinity case involved a MAO named Simply Healthcare Plans, Inc., its Management Service Organization (MSO) named InterAmerican Medical Center Group, LLC, and an exemplar Medicare beneficiary identified as B.G. The Infinity court pointed out that while the Eleventh Circuit in Western Heritage ruled that MAO’s accrue MSP PCOA recovery rights at the time they make conditional payments, the appellate court had not yet decided if the MSP statute also provides a private cause of action to MSO’s. Id. at 7 (citing Humana Medical Plan Inc. v. Western Heritage Ins., 832 F.3d 1229 (11th Cir. 2016). The Infinity court noted that district courts in the Eleventh Circuit and elsewhere overwhelmingly ruled that it does not. Id. (citing MSPA Claims I, LLC v. Liberty Mut. Fire Ins., 322 F. Supp. 3d 1273, 1283 (S.D. Fla. 2018); MAO-MSO Recovery II, LLC et al. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins., 1:17-CV-1541-JBM-JEH, 2018 WL 2392827, at *7 (C.D. Ill. May 25, 2018). The Infinity court cited one case in which a district court did not rule out the possibility of MSO’s having MSP PCOA rights, citing MAO-MSO Recovery II, LLC v. Mercury General, 17-2525-AB and 17-2557-AB, 2018 WL 3357493, at *7 (C.D. Cal. May 23, 2018). The Infinity court followed the Eleventh Circuit’s Western Heritage reasoning that because the MSP does not provide conditional payment reimbursement authority to MSO’s and does not obligate MSO’s to make secondary payments to be reimbursed, the obligations of a MSO would be contractual as opposed to statutory. Id. at 8. Therefore, the court declined to expand the scope of potential plaintiffs under the MSP PCOA beyond those listed in Western Heritage (a MAO when the MAO makes a conditional payment for healthcare services, by a Medicare beneficiary when the Medicare beneficiary had healthcare services paid by Medicare (or a MAO), or a healthcare provider when that healthcare provider has not been fully paid for services provided to a Medicare beneficiary).

The Infinity court also pointed out some potential flaws in the assignment chain to the MSO from another entity called IMC which by contract, needed to approve the assignment of any purported MSP rights from the MSO to MSPA unless it was “ministerial in nature.” Because the evidence presented that the assignment was ministerial in nature failed to explain how it met the definition of that term in the contract, it failed the preponderance of the evidence standard, and the Infinity court found MSPA failed to show a valid assignment under its potential MSO claim.

Take Aways:

In the Eleventh Circuit (covering Florida, Georgia and Alabama), it is now clear that the following can sue a primary plan (only) under the MSP’s private cause of action:
• (1) a MAO when the MAO makes a conditional payment for healthcare services,
• (2) a Medicare beneficiary when the Medicare beneficiary had healthcare services paid by Medicare (or a MAO), or
• (3) a healthcare provider when that healthcare provider has not been fully paid for services provided to a Medicare beneficiary
____________________________________________________________
[1] 42 U.S.C. 1395y(b)(2) et seq.

[2] 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b)(3)(A).

[3] MSPA Claims 1, LLC v. Tenet Florida, Inc. — F.3d —- 2019 WL 1233207 18-11816 (11th Cir. March 18, 2019) (citing The Federalist No. 62, at 421 (James Madison) (Jacob E. Cook ed., 1961) and MSP Recovery, LLC v. Allstate Ins. Co., 835 F. 3d 1351, 1358 (11th Cir. 2016).

Protecting Medicare’s Past Interests (How Securing Medicare Lien Resolution Will Help Protect Dwindling Medicare Trust Funds)
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Protecting Medicare’s Past Interests (How Securing Medicare Lien Resolution Will Help Protect Dwindling Medicare Trust Funds)

During the 21 years between 1980 and 2001, it is no secret that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) did very little to enforce the Medicare Secondary Payer statute (a series of provisions beginning at 42 U.S.C. §1395y(b) commonly referred to as the MSP).  This is surprising because the MSP prohibits Medicare from making payment when a primary payer should pay but makes only one exception for Medicare to be able to make payments conditionally provided it gets paid back.  Therefore, in those 21 years, protecting Medicare’s past interests would seem to have been on the minds of all settling parties on either side of Non Group Health Plan (NGHP) claims – Automobile, Liability (including self-insurance), Workers’ Compensation, or No Fault cases involving Medicare beneficiaries.

With enforcement actions by the U.S. becoming a reality, most parties to settlement have come to learn the importance of identifying conditional payments made by Medicare prior to judgments, settlements, awards or other payments. However, early on, many plaintiffs and their attorneys ignored their obligations to consider and protect both Medicare’s past and future interests, most often without consequences. Regarding Medicare’s past interests, they were hoping to never hear from Medicare again. Regarding Medicare’s future interests, they hoped that Medicare would not deny injured Medicare beneficiaries’ injury related treatment. While there still seems to be some clarification on the horizon coming from CMS with respect to the legal obligations to protect Medicare’s future interests, there is no longer doubt regarding parties’ obligations to address Medicare’s past interests and satisfy conditional payments.  However, negotiating the amount that CMS will accept as full payment, often through a process called the Medicare compromise process, may actually help protect the Medicare Trust Funds that the MSP was originally designed to protect[1].

Medicare has two Trust Funds. One for Part A that covers hospital insurance for the aged and disabled and one for both Part B that mainly covers doctors’ visits and Part D that covers prescription medications, for the same population of Medicare enrollees. It was announced in June 2018 that the Part A Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund is projected to be depleted in 2026, three years earlier than predicted just a year ago. The Part B and D Trust Fund is not as bad off due to a financing system with yearly resets for premium and general revenue income and is projected to have adequate funding for the next ten years and beyond.

Total Medicare expenditures were reported to be $710 billion in 2017. Medicare expenditures were projected to increase at a faster pace than either aggregate workers’ earnings or the economy, and to increase from approximately 3.7 percent in 2017 to between 6.2 percent and 8.9 percent as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2029, causing substantial strain on our nation’s workers, the economy, Medicare beneficiaries, and the Federal budget.

A 2018 Annual Report of the Boards of Trustees of the two Medicare Trust Funds recommended a legislative response [2] to help protect the Part A Trust Fund. However, instead of waiting years for Congress to act, if parties to third party or workers’ compensation settlements involving Medicare beneficiaries [3], proactively address both past and future interests of Medicare, that could help slow Medicare Trust Fund depletion, in line with the above-described intent of the MSP.

With good reason, many MSP compliance discussions focus on considering and protecting the future interests of Medicare and the allocation and administration tools designed to protect Medicare’s future interests.  Equally, if not more important due to the enforcement mechanisms currently in place, parties should address and protect Medicare’s past interests through Medicare lien resolution.  Because we know the obligation to address Medicare’s past interests exists, doesn’t it make sense to be proactive and seek opportunities to reduce/compromise the amount CMS will accept to fully resolve reimbursement of its conditional payment demands/Medicare liens? While it might seem that CMS would frown upon compromise requests, doesn’t it make more sense for CMS to encourage an open line of communication with settling parties and grant discounts to those who take the time to comply with the law as opposed to those settling parties that shirk their respective MSP responsibilities and ignore Medicare’s past interests?

CMS held a webinar today regarding an April 2019 upgrade to the Medicare Secondary Payer Recovery Portal (MSPRP) scheduled to allow for electronic payment of conditional payments for all NGHP matters. The portal’s payment functionality should speed up the payment of known non-disputed conditional payment amounts. For parties interested in reducing exposure to high interest rates (close to 10% currently) associated with late payment of conditional payment demands, this new electronic payment functionality of the MSPRP should be welcome news. Ideally, there will be an opportunity to reduce the requested conditional payment amounts by the procurement costs associated with obtaining the settlements. However, Medicare lien resolution often involves more than just reducing the injured party’s conditional payment obligation by the procurement costs.  As even better news, the compromise and waiver processes will not be affected by the electronic payments process.  Therefore, even when conditional payment/Medicare lien amounts are paid electronically via this new MSPRP process, CMS will still consider compromise or waiver requests, and issue refunds to the party providing payment (or as directed and authorized in writing by the paying party).

 


[1] The MSP is a series of statutory amendments to the Medicare law from 1965 which in turn amends the Social Security Act of 1935.

[2] Because this is the second consecutive finding that the difference between Medicare’s outlays and its financing sources will exceed 45 percent of Medicare’s outlays within 7 years, a Medicare funding warning was issued, requiring the President to submit proposed legislation to Congress within 15 days after the submission of the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget. Congress would then be required by law to consider the legislation on an expedited basis.

[3] The future interests of Medicare should be considered for any settlement regardless of claim type or Medicare enrollment status because the MSP does not make distinctions regarding Medicare’s payment status as a secondary payer for different claim types or about workload review threshold standards that currently exist in the Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside Arrangement (WCMSA) Reference Guide published by CMS.  Those workload review thresholds allowing review by CMS are triggered for WCMSAs involving Medicare beneficiaries for judgments, settlements, awards, or other payments (“Settlements”) over $25,000, and injured parties with a reasonable expectation of becoming enrolled in Medicare within 30 months of Settlement for Settlements over $250,000.  Section 8.1 of the new WCMSA Reference Guide makes it clear that even for WC cases where the workload review thresholds are not met, Medicare’s future interests should be considered via a future care plan (using “plan for future care” to allow the reader to determine the method by which the plan for the future care of the injured party should be prepared – even if not recommending, certainly implying a method such as commonly seen in Medicare Set-Aside allocation reports), or else the settling parties will be placed “at risk for recovery from care related to the WC injury up to the full value of the settlement.”  The industry is still waiting for regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations by CMS clarifying this issue for liability cases.  This coming fall, there may be further clarification regarding consideration and protection of Medicare’s future interests via new Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the NGHP area, with the hope that any resulting regulations will address comparative/contributory negligence, causation, policy limits, non-economic damages, and other factors unique to liability cases.

 

 

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.”

Announced and Unannounced Changes in the New WCMSA Reference Guide Now in Version 2.9 – A Peak Behind the CMS Curtain
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Announced and Unannounced Changes in the New WCMSA Reference Guide Now in Version 2.9 – A Peak Behind the CMS Curtain

CMS published the latest version of the WCMSA Reference Guide as Version 2.9 (Reference Guide or Guide) on January 4, 2019. In addition to changes announced in Section 1.1 of the Reference Guide titled Changes in This Version of the Guide, there are several other changes made that were not announced. The announced changes were as follows:

Version 2.9 of the guide includes the following changes:

• To eliminate issues around Development Letter and Alert templates auto populating with individual Regional Office (RO) reviewer names and direct phone numbers, these will now display the generic “Workers’ Compensation Review Contractor (WCRC)” and the WCRC customer service number “(833) 295-3773” (Appendix 5).
• Per CMS’ request, certain references to memoranda on cms.gov have been removed.
• The CDC Life Table has been updated for 2015 (Section 10.3).
• Updates have been provided for spinal cord stimulators and Lyrica (Sections 9.4.5 and 9.4.6.2)

Below, in numerical order, please find some of the main changes made by CMS, many of which were not announced in Section 1.1 quoted above. Sections, titles and additions have been bolded for emphasis and ease of reading.

A change in Section 4.1.1, titled Commutation and Compromise, on page 4, was one of the announced changes, and omits the previous Reference Guide’s reference to the July 2001 WC Regional Office (RO) Memorandum known in the industry as the Patel Memo. This is consistent with the statement in Section 1.0 that the Reference Guide “. . . reflects information compiled from all WCMSA Regional Office (RO) Memoranda issued by CMS, from information provided on the CMS website, from information provided by the Workers Compensation Review Contractor (WCRC), and from the CMS WCMSA Operating Rules. The intent of this reference guide is to consolidate and supplant all historical memoranda in a single point of reference. Please discontinue the reference of prior documents.” The concept is that the Reference Guide is the policy of CMS and prior documents or Memos it has issued should not be referred to or otherwise used to support a party’s position regarding matters addressed in the Reference Guide unless it continues to be referenced in the Reference Guide.

Section 4.2, titled Indications That Medicare’s Interests are Protected, has a new unannounced on page 5 bullet stating:

• CMS’ voluntary, yet recommended, WCMSA amount review process is the only process that offers both Medicare beneficiaries and Workers’ Compensation entities finality, with respect to obligations for medical care required after a settlement, judgment, award, or other payment occurs. When CMS reviews and approves a proposed WCMSA amount, CMS stands behind that amount. Without CMS’ approval, Medicare may deny related medical claims, or pursue recovery for related medical claims that Medicare paid up to the full amount of the settlement, judgment, award, or other payment.

Medivest’s take on the subject: CMS makes it sound enticing for Workers’ Compensation entities by using the word “finality.” Many parties have used the voluntary process to obtain approvals but have felt there has been a lack of consistency in review standards, especially from one contractor to another. Blogs and websites of many other companies that prepare Medicare Set-Aside (MSA) allocations indicate that they have experienced an increase in surprise counter highers over expenses like off-label prescription drug use as well as some other medical services when submitting WCMSAs to CMS for approval. As a result of what may have been perceived as a lack of consistency or perhaps a lack of confidence that the counter highers reflect real-world evidence-based needs of injured parties, many settling parties have seemed less inclined to choose submission as a regular practice, even when WC settlements fall within the CMS workload review thresholds, opting instead to follow the Medicare Secondary Payer Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b) et. seq. (MSP), and its corresponding regulations, instead of the voluntary policies of CMS.

On pages 8-9, under Section 8.1, titled Review Thresholds, two new unannounced examples have been included as follows:

Example 1: A recent retiree aged 67 and eligible for Medicare benefits under Parts A, B, and D files a WC claim against their former employer for the back injury sustained shortly before retirement that requires future medical care. The claim is offered settlement for a total of $17,000.00. However, this retiree will require the use of an anti-inflammatory drug for the balance of their life. The settling parties must consider CMS’ future interests even though the case would not be eligible for review. Failure to do so could leave settling parties subject to future recoveries for payments related to the injury up to the total value of the settlement
($17,000.00).

 

Example 2: A 47 year old steelworker breaks their ankle in such a manner that leaves the individual permanently disabled. As a result, the worker should become eligible for Medicare benefits in the next 30 months based upon eligibility for Social Security Disability benefits. The steelworker is offered a total settlement of $225,000.00, inclusive of future care. Again, the steelworker [typo fixed] is offered a total settlement of $225,000.00, inclusive of future care. Again, there is a likely need for no less than pain management for this future beneficiary. The case would be ineligible for review under the non-CMS-beneficiary standard requiring a case total settlement to be greater than $250,000.00 for review. 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.

Medivest’s take on the subject: These examples illustrate CMS’s position that Medicare’s future interests need to be considered even if the dollar amount of the judgment, settlement, award or other payment does not meet the CMS workload review thresholds. The examples emphasize that CMS considers the establishment of a plan for future care to be a priority and that CMS is serious about protecting Medicare’s future interests. These examples further spell out that CMS reserves the right to request an injured party to fully exhaust the amount of money equal to the entire settlement (not mentioning anything about allowing for a reduction of procurement costs such as attorney’s fees and costs expended to obtain the settlement typically allowed to be deducted under MSP regulations when parties timely request to resolve conditional payment/Medicare liens) when an injured party who is compensated for future medicals, fails to establish a plan for future care.

On page 9 under Section 9.0, titled WCMSA Submission Process Overview, CMS allows for a WCMSA proposal to be submitted either by paper or CD to the Benefits Coordination & Recovery Center or online via the WCMSA Portal (WCMSAP) and clarifies that these are the only acceptable submission delivery methods to be used.

In Section 9.4.5, titled Medical Review Guidelines, under the subsection heading Spinal Cord Stimulators on page 22, the following language was added to change the former policy of not including lead implantation in revision surgeries to the newly adopted policy whereby “Routine replacement of the neurostimulator pulse generator includes the lead implantation up to the number of leads related to the associated code. Revision surgeries should only be used where a historical pattern of a need to relocate leads exists.”

In Section 9.4.5, titled Medical Review Guidelines, under the subsection Pricing for Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS) Surgery on page 22, the following text was inserted “SCS pricing is based on identification of: 1.) Rechargeable vs. Non-rechargeable and 2.) Single vs. Multiple Arrays (leads). If unknown, CMS will default to non-rechargeable single array.”

In Section 9.4.5, titled Medical Review Guidelines, under the subsection Pricing for Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS) Surgery on page 22, the following language was deleted: “Preadmission Testing will be included where appropriate.”

In Section 9.4.5, titled Medical Review Guidelines, under the subsection Pricing for Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS) Surgery, a table titled Table 9-3: Spinal Cord Stimulator Surgery CPT Codes on page 24, was expanded from three procedure (CPT) codes previously listed for Post Placement System Testing to a total of 12 including the same Post Placement System Testing as well as a series of CPT codes for Pre-Placement Psychological Testing, Anesthesia, and various other codes for the implantation procedures, etc. along with detailed descriptions of each.

In Section 9.4.6.2, titled Pharmacy Guidelines and Conditions, under the subsection Medically Accepted Indications and Off-Label Use, on page 28, there are now two detailed examples of off-label use instead of only one off-label use example in the prior version. The additional language appears in bold as follows:

Example 1: Lyrica (Pregabalin) is cited in MicroMedEx for an off-label medication use related to neuropathic pain from spinal cord injury, and a number of scientific studies indicate that Pregabalin shows statistically significant positive results for the treatment of radicular pain (a type of neuropathic pain). Spinal cord neuropathy includes injuries directly to the spinal cord or its supporting structures causing nerve impingement that results in neuropathic pain. Lyrica is considered acceptable for pricing as a treatment for WCMSAs that include diagnoses related to radiculopathy because radiculopathy is a type of neuropathy related to peripheral nerve impingement caused by injury to the supporting structures of the spinal cord.

 

Example 2: Trazodone” – which was previously described as – “Trazodone is approved by the FDA for the treatment of major depressive disorder,
but is commonly given off-label to treat insomnia. So the WCRC would include trazodone in a WCMSA if used to treat insomnia, if it is related to the workers’ compensation injury.”

Medivest’s take on the subject: This seems to be a situation where the new WCRC has been including more off-label drugs in its counter highers than the prior contractor, with the expensive drug Lyrica, gaining the most industry attention. Entities submitting WCMSAs for approval should be aware of the language referred to on page 28 of the Reference Guide that cites the Medicare IOM (Internet Only Manual) rules concerning Medicare covered off-label usage. The standard is as follows, “FDA approved drugs used for indications other than what is indicated on the official label may be covered under Medicare if the carrier determines the use to be medically accepted, taking into consideration the major drug compendia, authoritative medical literature and/or accepted standards of medical practice accepted, taking into consideration the major drug compendia, authoritative medical literature and/or accepted standards of medical practice.” Because this standard is so broad and the CMS and its WCRC seems to be taking an expansive approach to what types of off-label use is determined to be includable, parties seeking to control costs but still interested in CMS submission should consider professional consultations with treating physicians as to whether there are less costly medications and/or alternate treatment/prescription doses that can be utilized, implemented, and confirmed as equally effective, prior to submission.

Under Section 10.4 Section 20 – Life Care / Future Treatment Plan, page 43, a new statement “A Future Treatment Plan is required in the absence of a Life-Care Plan” makes it clear that there is a minimum requirement for future treatment to be listed in a submitted allocation in absence of a Life-Care Plan.

Medivest’s take on the subject: This is not really news because the term Future Treatment Plan existed in the prior Reference Guide’s title for this section. This seems to be a way to bring some consistency to the idea and to tie the term Future Treatment Plan together with the terms Future Treatment and Future Treatment Summary that also appear (and previously appeared) in the section.

In Section 10.5.2, titled Use of WC Fee Schedule vs. Actual Charges for WCMSA, on page 43, the state of Virginia was removed from the list of states that do not have a state Workers’ Compensation (WC) Fee Schedule. The states that do not have a WC fee schedule currently are Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. The Reference Guide instructs, “Do not use a fee schedule in a state that does not have a fee schedule.”

Under Section 16, titled Re-Review, there are three subheadings describing circumstances under which a party may request a Re-Review. Under the subheadings of Mathematical Error and Missing Documentation on page 55, the following unannounced Note was inserted:

Notes:
• Disagreement surrounding the inclusion or exclusion of specific
treatments or medications does not meet the definition of a mathematical error.

• Re-Review requests based upon failure to properly review already submitted records must include only the specific documentation referenced as a basis for the request.

Under the third subheading titled Amended Review, the criteria and information remained the same, but the information was reformatted as follows with a phrase added to last note bullet in bold:

• CMS has issued a conditional approval/approved amount at least 12 but no more than 48 months prior.

• The case has not yet settled as of the date of the request for re-review.

• Projected care has changed so much that the submitter’s new proposed amount would result in a 10% or $10,000 change (whichever is greater) in CMS’ previously approved amount.

• Where a re-review request is reviewed and approved by CMS, the new approved amount will take effect on the date of settlement, regardless of whether the amount increased or decreased.

• This new submission may be delivered in both paper and portal formats. Please see the WCMSAP User Guide for more information.

In order to justify that the projected care would result in a 10% or $10,000 change (whichever is greater), the submitter must return CMS’ Recommendation Sheet that was included in CMS’ conditional approval letter and identify the following:

• Line items that were included in the approved amount, but are for care that has already been provided to the beneficiary. Please identify where references to records indicating that the care has already been provided can be found in the updated proposal.

• Line items for care that is no longer required. Please identify where references to replacement treatment can be found in the updated proposal.

• If additional care is required that was not otherwise included in CMS’ conditional approved amount, please add line items.

Notes:
• In the event that treatment has changed due to a state-specific requirement, a life-care plan showing replacement treatment for denied treatments will be required if medical records do not indicate a change.

• The approval of a new generic version of a medication by the Food and Drug Administration does not constitute a reason to request an amended review for supposed changes in projected pricing.

• CMS will deny the request for re-review if submitters fail to provide the above-referenced justifications with the request for re-review.

• Submitters will not be permitted to supplement the request for re-review, nor will they be developed.

Under Section 17.3 Use of the Account on Page 57, the bolded language replaced prior language on the subject:

“Please note: If payments from the WCMSA account are used to pay for services other than Medicare-allowable medical expenses related to medically necessary services and prescription drug expenses for the WC settled injury or illness, Medicare will deny all WC-injury-related claims until the WCMSA administrator can demonstrate appropriate use equal to the full amount of the WCMSA.”

Medivest’s take on the subject: CMS is indicating that Administrators have the burden to show appropriate use of MSA funds and therefore, must keep accurate records to prevent mistaken denial of injury related Medicare covered claims by Medicare after MSA funds are exhausted.

Under Chapter 18 titled CMS Submission, after the sentence, “Additionally, the contractor must ensure that Medicare makes no payments related to the WC injury until the WCMSA has been used up”, the following language was added on page 60:

This is accomplished by placing an electronic marker in CMS’ systems used to pay or deny claims. That marker is removed once the beneficiary can demonstrate the appropriate exhaustion of an amount equal to the WCMSA plus any accrued interest from the account. For those with structured settlements, the marker is removed in any period where the beneficiary exhausts their available funds; however, it is replaced once the anniversary fund deposit occurs until the entire value of the WCMSA is demonstrated as entirely exhausted.

Medivest’s take on the subject: This is the first indication of an “electronic marker” and gives an idea of how the CMS computer system will be flagging those injury related medicals submitted for payment by Medicare, but that Medicare may deny.

In Appendix 4, WCRC Proposal Review Reference Tools on page 69, the link to CMS Memos and written references to CMS Memos going back to 2001 were removed.

All references in Appendix 5. Sample Letters to Sherri McQueen, as Acting Director, were changed to Sherri McQueen, Director, Financial Services Group Office of Financial Management.

In the Development Letter Sample, the CMS Regional Office Contact reference and contact phone numbers were removed and replaced with “the Workers’ Compensation Review Contractor (WCRC) at (833) 295-3773” on pages 81 and 85.

Medivest’s take on the subject:  The WCRC now has the responsibility to field calls regarding submission of WCMSAs instead of the CMS Regional Offices.

Medivest will continue to follow changes in policy at CMS and in the actions of its Workers’ Compensation Review Contractor, Capitol Bridge, LLC, and will keep our readers up to date on developing trends.

How to Secure Medicare Lien Resolution (While Protecting Medicare’s Past Interests)
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How to Secure Medicare Lien Resolution (While Protecting Medicare’s Past Interests)

Planning to protect Medicare’s future interests should be part of any diligent Medicare Secondary Payer Act[1] (MSP) compliance analysis.  However, because enforcement actions by the U.S. under the MSP have focused on reimbursement of Medicare for payments occurring prior to settlement, Medicare lien resolution (i.e. investigating and negotiating satisfactory payment of Medicare conditional payment reimbursement demands), should be placed at the top of the MSP compliance list by primary payers and those representing injured parties. We recently wrote about conditional payment correspondence from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) through its BCRC and CRC contractors, the updated functionality of the Medicare Secondary Payer Recovery Portal (MSPRP), and the importance of obtaining correct conditional payment amounts so settlements can move forward while protecting Medicare’s past interests. When the U.S. government’s conditional payment reimbursement amount (Medicare lien amount) is larger than a potential settlement amount or the payment of the full lien amount will take up a good portion of a Medicare beneficiary’s net settlement, a beneficiary will be less interested in settling. Enter Medicare lien resolution.

Medicare Lien Resolution Road Map

When we perform Medicare lien resolution, our goal is to get CMS to evaluate the Medicare lien amount compared to the net amount to be received by injured party after fees and costs are deducted. Additionally, we sometimes ask CMS to evaluate the Medicare lien amount compared to the weakened financial position/physical condition of the Medicare beneficiary after an accident. When the net settlement is unfairly low compared to the Medicare lien amount, CMS will often reduce the lien prior to settlement. There are several federal statutes and accompanying regulations that provide authority for CMS to reduce (compromise) or sometimes waive Medicare liens. The statutes and regulations outline standards and factors that may be considered for full or partial reductions of Medicare lien amounts. These factors often focus on the ability of the injured party to pay the lien, costs the government would incur to pursue collecting the lien, as well as the injured party’s financial/physical circumstances.

Medicare Lien Waiver Process

The Medicare lien waiver process is a more involved process than the compromise process. Waiver requests typically focus on the financial position of the injured Medicare beneficiary, who may have higher expenses and/or lower income after sustaining an injury. After settlement occurs and funds are transferred, while the MSP technically still allows the U.S. to pursue the primary payer (entity responsible for payment) when a Medicare beneficiary fails to satisfy a Medicare lien, the Medicare beneficiary is most often considered the debtor and pursued by CMS initially through the Benefits Coordination and Recovery Center (BCRC).  Attorneys for Medicare beneficiaries can also be caught in the MSP cross hairs.  Waiver requests for a Medicare beneficiary are sent to the BCRC. In turn, the BCRC typically asks for a SSA-632 form to be filled out with a variety of financial information about the beneficiary. Waiver determinations may be made by BCRC staff and are usually based on financial hardship.

To speed up the process and increase the likelihood of a positive outcome, it is a best practice when requesting a waiver to provide a full financial picture of the beneficiary, including either a completed SSA-632 form or as much of the information requested by that form as can be obtained, so BCRC staff will have adequate information to reach a fair determination. A waiver may be granted when continuing the collection would be against “equity and good conscience.” The process takes about 120 days from start to finish for a waiver determination to be made. If a conditional payment demand has been paid, a waiver or compromise request may still be made, and a refund will be considered. If the BCRC makes a determination to refund all or part of the prior payment, the refund will typically take an additional 3-4 weeks, depending on whether payment had been made to the BCRC directly or whether it was made to the Department of Treasury after a referral of the debt to Treasury by the BCRC.

Medicare Lien Compromise Process

If there is not a significant financial or physical hardship to the Medicare beneficiary, but the dollar amount of the projected settlement is low compared with the likely settlement value and/or the Medicare lien amount, an alternative to a waiver request is a Medicare lien compromise request. To request a compromise, a third-party representative may offer to pay a specific dollar amount on behalf of the beneficiary to fully compromise the outstanding Medicare debt/lien amount. The requester must include the settlement amount (or settlement offer), the amount they are asking CMS to accept as full payment, and the actual or projected attorney fees and costs associated with procuring the settlement. Attorney fees and costs are omitted when the beneficiary is not represented by counsel. CMS, through the BCRC, either responds by accepting the offer or presenting an alternate proposed amount. At that point, the beneficiary must pay the countered amount or if accepted, pay the accepted amount within 60 days of the BCRC response, or else the offer is no longer valid.

Letting a representative act on your client’s behalf in communicating and negotiating with CMS has helped lawyers save time and put more money in the pockets of their clients, while helping parties to the settlement comply with the MSP with respect to Medicare’s past interests.  Count on Medivest to help you with your Medicare lien resolution needs.


[1] 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b)(2) et seq.