On June 12, 2013, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey published its opinion in Taransky v. Sebelius, finding that the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Ms. Taransky’s “due process” and “proportionality” claims, as Ms. Taransky failed to administratively exhaust these claims. Additionally, the Court concluded that despite state trial court’s order on a stipulation allocating settlement recovery to non-medical expenses, Ms. Taransky received payment from a “primary plan” responsible for payment of her medical expenses that had been covered by Medicare. As a result, Ms. Taransky is required to reimburse Medicare $10,121.15 pursuant to the MSP Act.
This case arose from a trip-and-fall accident that occurred on November 7, 2005 in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. Ms. Taransky was injured and, as a result, the federal Medicare program paid $18,401.41 in conditional payments. Ms. Taransky sued the owners and operators of the shopping center on October 26, 2007, seeking damages for her personal injury losses. On October 26, 2009, Ms. Taransky settled the claims against these tort defendants in return for a lump-sum payment of $90,000.00.
Following the settlement, Ms. Taransky’s counsel filed a “Motion to Adjudicate Allocation of Settlement Proceeds” in the Superior Court of New Jersey, in Burlington County, that included a proposed order stating that “no portion of this recovery obtained by plaintiff in this matter is attributable to medical expenses or other benefits compensated by way of a collateral source.” In addition to the proposed order, Plaintiff’s counsel filed a “certification,” in which he stated that “New Jersey law does not permit a plaintiff’s tort recovery of losses (such as medical expenses) that have been compensated by way of collateral sources of benefits, such losses were not considered in settlement negotiations between the parties to this action and are not part of any recovery that may be obtained.” The state court entered the proposed order on November 20, 2009.
On December 8, 2009, the Medicare Secondary Payer Recovery Contractor, on behalf of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”), sent Ms. Taransky a letter request that she reimburse Medicare $10,121.15. She disagreed and on January 4, 2010, Ms. Taransky sought redetermination from the Medicare Secondary Payer Recovery Contractor. The request was denied by letter dated March 30, 2010. Ms. Taransky again sought redetermination of Medicare’s reimbursement decision, which a “Qualified Independent Contractor” affirmed via letter dated October 15, 2010. Ms. Taransky then proceeded before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) by way of telephonic hearing on March 9, 2011.
Ms. Taransky made the following arguments before the ALJ: (1) under the Medicare Secondary Payer Manual, Chapter 7, § 50.4.4, “the only situation in which Medicare recognizes allocations of liability payments to non-medical losses is when payment is based on a court order on the merits of the case” and that Medicare must defer to the state court’s allocation order because through its order, “the state court issued a decision on the merits of the case in which it allocated no part of the settlement to medical expenses or other benefits by way of a collateral source”; (2) the New Jersey Collateral Source Statute (“NJCSS”) “prohibits a plaintiff’s tort recovery from including any insured loss, apart from worker’s compensation and life insurance benefits” and as such, the Medicare payments were a collateral source and a New Jersey court would be legally prohibited from including them in any verdict; (3) Medicare is obligated to abide by the state court’s order; and (4) “reimbursement would be inequitable and that it would be unfair for Medicare to be ‘made whole’ for its expenditures from the already inadequate compensation received by the Beneficiary.”
The ALJ analyzed and rejected those arguments in its opinion issued April 15, 2011, finding that the state court’s order was not “on the merits” of the case, as it was issued pursuant to a stipulation of the parties and Medicare is therefore not required to defer to the state court’s order. Further, the ALJ determined that the NJCSS does not apply to conditional Medicare benefits. Therefore the Collateral Source Statute does not affect the Beneficiary’s legal obligation to reimburse Medicare. Thus, the ALJ rejected Ms. Taransky’s arguments and determined that she was liable for repayment of Medicare’s conditional payments.
Ms. Taransky appealed the ALJ’s determination to the Medicare Appeals Council (“MAC”), who rendered its decision on May 11, 2010, finding “no error in the ALJ’s decision.” Accordingly, the MAC adopted the ALJ’s decision “in its entirety” and added a discussion of a then-recently decided case, Mason v. Sebelius, No. 11-2370, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40592, 2012 WL 1019131 (D.N.J. Mar. 23, 2012) (Simandle, J.) In addition, the MAC made a factual finding that “the $90,000 settlement in this case and the accompanying release of all claims against the defendants included compensation for medical expenses already paid for by Medicare with conditional payments.”
On July 16, 2012, Ms. Taransky filed the instant lawsuit, through which she asserted claims for “declaratory judgment and injunctive relief,” “violation of due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution,” and “for unjust enrichment.” Ms. Taransky also sought relief on behalf of a “class of all other persons similarly situated who had obtained tort recoveries subject to New Jersey law and were subjected to improper claims for reimbursement of Medicare out of their personal injury recoveries.”
On November 7, 2012, Defendants moved the Court to dismiss Ms. Taransky’s Complaint, or, in the alternative, enter an order of summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The Court heard oral argument in this matter on May 13, 2013. The Court’s findings are as follows:
1. Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Proportionality
In bringing their motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), Defendants asserted a factual challenge to the Court’s subject matter jurisdiction over Ms. Taransky’s claim “for violation of due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.” Defendants contended that 28 U.S.C. § 1331 does not confer jurisdiction over these claims that arise under the Medicare Act, and because Ms. Taransky has failed to pursue these claims through the Medicare administrative process, the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction.
Plaintiff argued that her due process claims are properly before the Court because the basis for her constitutional claims “is not the adverse CMS administrative decision nor even the availability of the CMS administrative process per se,” but that “CMS administrative procedures fail to address the issue of its systemic disregard for the limits of statutory authority” and renders “those administrative procedures fundamentally flawed.” In contrast, Defendants direct the Court to Mason v. Sebelius, No. 11-2370, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40592, 2012 WL 1019131 (D.N.J. Mar. 23, 2012), where Judge Simandle concluded that the claim was “one ‘arising under’ the Medicare act and the third sentence of § 405(h) therefore deprives the Court of federal question jurisdiction.” The Court agreed with Judge Simandle’s reasoning that this “due process” claim arose under the Medicare Act. Further, Ms. Taransky had ample opportunity to channel her constitutional claim throughout the administrative process, and she had not shown otherwise. Accordingly, the Court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss Ms. Taransky’s Due Process claim.
Ms. Taransky argued for the first time before the Court that, under Arkansas Dep’t of Health & Human Servs. v. Ahlborn, 547 U.S. 268, 126 S. Ct. 1752, 164 L. Ed. 2d 459 (2006), Defendants’ entitlement to reimbursement should be “limited to the amount actually recovered by a beneficiary in respect of medical expense, or, where no such allocation is made, a proportionate share of the recovery.” Defendants contended that this argument was not properly before the Court because Plaintiffs failed to administratively exhaust the claim. The Court agreed. Its review of the administrative record reveals that Plaintiff did not raise her Ahlborn / proportionality claim during the administrative process, yet, for the first time, asked the Court to limit Defendants’ entitlement to Medicare reimbursement. Because Plaintiff had not administratively exhausted the claim as required under Section 405(g), it was not properly before the Court and the Court therefore lacked jurisdiction to consider it.
2. Medicare Reimbursement Claims
Defendants next sought dismissal or an entry of summary judgment on Plaintiff’s fully-exhausted claims for “Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief” and “Unjust Enrichment,” through which Plaintiff challenged the Medicare Appeals Council’s decision to uphold Medicare’s reimbursement claim. Specifically, Ms. Taransky sought from the Court a “reversal of the MAC decision; a judgment relieving her of liability to reimburse the Medicare program to that portion of her tort recovery representing the primary plan’s demonstrated responsibility for medical expenses covered by the program; and a refund of all monies improperly paid to defendants in respect of the Medicare reimbursement claim.” Ms. Taransky also asked for relief on behalf of a “class of all other persons similarly situated who had obtained tort recoveries subject to New Jersey law and were subjected to improper claims for reimbursement of Medicare out of their personal injury recoveries.”
Defendants asserted that they were entitled to an entry of summary judgment upholding the MAC’s decision and they again point to Judge Simandle’s opinion in Mason v. Sebelius, No. 11-2370, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40592, 2012 WL 1019131, (D.N.J. March 23, 2012), which, as previously discussed, confronted many of the issues raised in this case. In Mason, Judge Simandle engaged in a thorough review of the MSP, the NJCSS, and New Jersey case law and ultimately found that the New Jersey Supreme Court would likely conclude that conditional Medicare benefits subject to reimbursement are not a collateral source under the NJCSS and therefore does not apply to exclude conditional Medicare benefits from a tort settlement or judgment.
The Court found that the MAC and ALJ properly addressed the issue of the state allocation order. The MAC adopted the ALJ’s decision in its entirety, including the ALJ’s conclusions with regard to the state court’s allocation order. In rendering its decision, the ALJ addressed Ms. Taransky’s attempt to apply the Medicare Secondary Payer Manual, Chapter 7, § 50.4.4 to her case, as she did again in arguing the instant case before the Court. This section provides, in relevant part, that “[t]he only situation in which Medicare recognizes allocations of liability payments to nonmedical losses is when payment is based on a court order on the merits of the case.” Ms. Taransky asserted, as she does here, that “through an Order to Adjudicate the Allocation of Settlement Proceeds, the state court issued a decision on the merits of the case in which it allocated no part of the settlement to medical expenses or other benefits compensated by the way of a collateral source” and Medicare must therefore recognize this allocation.
However, the ALJ properly rejected this argument, reasoning that, “on the merits’ means, a court order delivered after a court has heard and evaluated the evidence and the parties’ substantive arguments.” The ALJ determined that the state court’s order “was not made pursuant to a determination by a court of any substantive issue with respect to a primary negligence suit, including determinations regarding fault or damages” and “[i]nstead, the Order was issued pursuant to a stipulation of the parties” and “the Beneficiary cannot cancel out her legal duties through a stipulation with a third party.” Here, the Court found that the ALJ properly reached its conclusion that the state court’s order, entered upon a stipulation of the parties, did not constitute a “court order on the merits of the case” as contemplated under Chapter 7, § 50.4.4 of the Medicare Secondary Payer Manual. Accordingly, this conclusion, coupled with the MAC’s factual determination that the settlement included compensation for medical expenses already paid for by Medicare with conditional payments, which this Court must regard as “conclusive” under Section 405(g), lead the Court to affirm the MAC’s decision.
This case illustrates the fundamental principle that Medicare’s interests cannot be stipulated away by the parties to tort litigation. It reinforces Medicare’s rights as paramount despite judicial approval of settlement documentation. Additionally, it seemingly settles the issue regarding Medicare benefits as a collateral source in New Jersey, holding that conditional Medicare benefits subject to reimbursement are not a collateral source and therefore cannot apply to exclude conditional Medicare benefits from a tort settlement or judgment.