11th Circuit Appellate Court Rules Government’s Lawsuit Untimely

Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rendered its decision on United States v. Stricker et al., finding that under the applicable statutory provisions and federal regulations, the government’s action under the MSP Act accrued on October 29, 2003, when $275 million was transferred by the defendants to the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Since the government filed its lawsuit on December 1, 2009, even if the longer six-year limitations period applied, the government’s action was untimely.

For decades, from its chemical plant in Anniston, Alabama, the Monsanto Company and its predecessors—including Pharmacia Corporation and Solutia, Incorporated—allegedly produced polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCBs”), which are toxic pollutants linked to cancer and birth defects. In 1996, thousands of individuals sued Monsanto, Pharmacia, and Solutia (collectively “the PCB producers”) in state and federal courts in Alabama for injuries caused by PCBs.

Eventually, the parties reached a settlement whereby the PCB producers paid $300 million to the plaintiffs in return for their release of liability. More than six years after the PCB producers transferred $275 million to the PCB plaintiffs’ lawyers pursuant to the settlement, but before that money was distributed to the PCB plaintiffs, the government filed suit under the MSPA against the PCB producers, the PCB plaintiffs’ lawyers, and the insurance companies which furnished liability insurance to the PCB producers, seeking to recoup Medicare payments that it had made on behalf of 907 PCB plaintiffs.

The Federal Claims Collection Act provides that when an action is “founded upon a contract,” the government must sue within six years of the accrual of the cause of action. 28 U.S.C. § 2415(a). For actions “founded upon a tort,” the government must file suit within three years of accrual. 28 U.S.C. § 2415(b). As a result, the defendants moved to dismiss the government’s MSPA complaint, arguing that because the underlying cause of action related to a toxic tort claim, the three-

year statute of limitations under § 2415(b) applied to bar the government’s action as untimely. The defendants alternatively argued that, even if the six-year statute of limitations under § 2415(a) applied based upon the contract between the plaintiffs and their attorneys, the government’s action was still barred because the complaint was filed more than six years after the cause of action accrued. The district court agreed with both arguments and granted the motions to dismiss.

The events contemplated by the settlement agreement were as follows:

  • August 20, 2003: The parties agreed to a settlement.
  • August 26, 2003: The PCB producers transferred $75 million to the interest-bearing account.
  • September 9, 2003: The parties signed a written settlement agreement.
  • September 10, 2003: The state court approved the settlement agreement.
  • September 17, 2003: The PCB producers wired the additional $200 million to the interest-bearing account.
  • October 28, 2003: The PCB lawyers certified that 75% of the adult PCB plaintiffs had signed releases.
  • October 29, 2003: The PCB producers paid $275 million to the PCB plaintiffs’ lawyers.
  • December 2, 2003: The PCB plaintiffs’ lawyers certified that 97% of the PCB plaintiffs had signed releases.

On December 1, 2009, the government filed the lawsuit seeking reimbursement of conditional payments it had made.

The had government six years “after the right of action accrues” to bring an action “founded upon any contract express or implied in law or fact.” See § 2415(a). It had three years after the action accrued to bring an action “founded upon a tort.” See § 2415(b). The court found that it need not decide whether the government’s attempt to recoup Medicare payments under the MSPA after a toxic-tort settlement constituted an action founded upon a contract or an action founded upon a tort. Assuming that § 2415(a)’s six-year limitations period applies, the government’s action under the MSPA against the PCB producers, their insurers, and the PCB plaintiffs’ lawyers accrued on October 29, 2003, when the PCB producers transferred the $275 million from an interest-bearing account to the PCB plaintiffs’ lawyers. Because the government filed this lawsuit on December 1, 2009—six years, one month, and two days from when its action accrued—its lawsuit was untimely.

Interestingly, the court briefly mentioned that the recently signed legislation, (although not applicable in this case), clarifies the uncertainty concerning statute of limitations issues for MSPA reimbursement claims. The Strengthening Medicare and Repaying Taxpayers Act establishes a three-year statute of limitations for Medicare to file suit for recovery under the MSPA. See Pub. L. No. 112-242, § 205(a) (2013).

The case seems to answer many questions about the viability of conditional payment recovery actions by the federal government under the Medicare Secondary Payer Act. Medicare’s arguments are typically centered on the very broad language of the Act which, when considered alone, carries no limitations period on actions to recover funds paid by Medicare on behalf of injured Medicare beneficiaries. However, when coupled with The Federal Claims Collection Act, a cogent argument can be raised that the power of the federal government is not without limitations. As the court noted, actions accruing after the passage of the S.M.A.R.T. Act are subject to a three year limitations period. However, for all actions that ripened before the enactment of S.M.A.R.T., the arguments made by the defendants in the Stricker case have now been given deference by the Eleventh Circuit.

MSAs for Liability Cases? – CMS Publishes Timeline for Rulemaking

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently published RIN: 0938-AR43 in follow-up to its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, originally released on June 15, 2012 (read here). The original ANPRM solicited public comment on a proposed rule regarding  standardized options that CMS was considering making available to beneficiaries and their representatives to clarify how beneficiaries could “meet their obligations to protect Medicare’s interest with respect to Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) claims involving automobile and liability insurance (including self-insurance), no-fault insurance, and workers’ compensation when future medical care is claimed or the settlement, judgment, award, or other payment releases (or has the effect of releasing) claims for future medical care.” The document provided seven options for satisfying Medicare’s interest when settling future medical benefits as a result of an injury or accident.

According to the Federal Register, 107 comments were received. Considering the importance and far-reaching ramifications of a potential rule to codify and require the parties to consider Medicare in all insurance cases, the number of comments was startlingly low. In fact, the lack of CMS activity with regard to the rule making may signal that the issue was not pressing enough for immediate action. In fact, no response to the comments were addressed or made by CMS until the publication of the RIN. In several public appearances since June of last year, CMS officials refused to discuss the issue, advising that they were “under rulemaking.” While their position is technically incorrect as the rule was simply a proposed notice, CMS nonetheless gave many the impression that activity around the issue was not a priority.

With the release of the RIN, CMS seems to signal that they are prepared to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which would include liability insurance cases. The deadline for action, however, is listed as “9/00/2013.” Accordingly, we may be able to expect something substantive in the very near future. Presumably, CMS has digested the comments provided by those that bothered to respond. By and large, those comments either questioned the statutory authority of CMS to implement such a rule, or lamented the broken, sometimes incomprehensible workers’ compensation MSA review and approval process.

While the RIN suggests a timeline for action by CMS, it must be remembered that the suggested timeline will not be enforced by any entity other than CMS itself or the Department of Health and Human Services. Considering the slow response that CMS and HHS have exhibited in formulating and releasing Congressionally-mandated regulations to implement the newly enacted Strengthening Medicare and Repaying Taxpayers (SMART) Act, it would not be unusual to see the September deadline come and go without a proposed rule.

Certainly, CMS action on these issues and implementation of a rule requiring injured plaintiffs/claimants to formally consider Medicare’s future interests in any injury or accident case, could fundamentally alter the way claims will be evaluated, litigated and resolved particularly with respect to liability insurance claims. Gould & Lamb will continue to monitor the situation and will provide updates or comment as the situation is further defined. If you would like to discuss these issues, contact your G&L representative or call our corporate office and an executive team member will be glad to assist you.


Future Considerations for Controlled-Release Oxycodone

Oxycodone CR is a slow release opioid narcotic currently indicated for use in moderate and moderate-to-severe pain. When initially released to the market, the indicated use was for pain management in cancer patients and for control of postoperative pain. As the use of controlled-release Oxycodone expanded, problems with addiction and abuse escalated.

In an effort to bring the use of Oxycodone CR under more effective control, H.R. 1366 cited as the “Stop Oxy Abuse Act of 2013” was introduced March 21, 2013 “to direct the Commissioner of Food and Drugs to modify the approval of any drug containing controlled-release (CR) oxycodone hydrochloride, to limit such approval to use for the relief of severe-only instead of moderate-to-severe pain, and for other purposes”. The introduction of the bill followed a petition filed by Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP) calling for the FDA to modify opioid labeling such that future approval would exclude the term “moderate” from an indicated use for non-cancer pain. As such, approval for use would be limited to severe pain only within this population. However, the bill does not restrict the drug’s use to non-cancer pain but, rather, seeks to limit approval for use to “severe-only pain” for any patient population.

If H.R. 1366 passes, it will operate to remove use of the controlled-release oxycodone drugs for management of any form of moderate pain type diagnoses as an approved indication by the FDA. The prescribing of Oxycodone CR for “moderate” or “moderate-severe” pain would then be considered an “Off Label” use. Within the world of Medicare Set-Aside, provision of controlled-released Oxycodone for such diagnoses would be excluded from the plan of care. Any continued use of Oxycodone CR would require medical documentation and diagnosis of “severe” pain.

2012 Medicare Trustees Annual Report

Continuing Short Term and Long Term Financial Difficulties

The Medicare program has two components. Hospital Insurance (HI) and Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI).  HI, otherwise known as Medicare Part A, helps pay for hospital, home health, skilled nursing facility, and hospice care for the aged and disabled. SMI consists of Medicare Part B and Part D. Part B helps pay for physician, outpatient hospital, home health, and other services for the aged and disabled who have voluntarily enrolled. Part D provides subsidized access to drug insurance coverage on a voluntary basis for all beneficiaries and premium and cost-sharing subsidies for low-income enrollees. Medicare also has a Part C, which serves as an alternative to traditional Part A and Part B coverage. Under this option, beneficiaries can choose to enroll in and receive care from private “Medicare Advantage” and certain other health insurance plans that contract with Medicare. These plans receive prospective, capitated payments for such beneficiaries from the HI and SMI Part B trust fund accounts.

The Social Security Act established the Medicare Board of Trustees to oversee the financial operations of the HI and SMI trust funds. The Social Security Act requires that the Board, among other duties, report annually to the Congress on the financial and actuarial status of the HI and SMI trust funds. A complete copy of the 2012 report submitted by the Board can be found on the CMS website.

In summary, total Medicare expenditures were $549 billion in 2011. The Board projects that, under current law, expenditures will increase in future years at a somewhat faster pace than either aggregate workers’ earnings or the economy overall and that, as a percentage of GDP, they will increase from 3.7 percent in 2011 to 6.7 percent by 2086 (based on the Trustees’ intermediate set of assumptions). If lawmakers continue to override the statutory decreases in physician fees, and if the reduced price increases for other health services under Medicare are not sustained and do not take full effect in the long range, then Medicare spending would instead represent roughly 10.4 percent of GDP in 2086. Growth of this magnitude, if realized, would substantially increase the strain on the nation’s workers, the economy, Medicare beneficiaries, and the federal budget.

The Trustees project that HI tax income and other dedicated revenues will fall short of HI expenditures in all future years under current law. The HI trust fund does not meet either the Trustees’ test of short-range test of financial adequacy or their test of long-range close actuarial balance.

The Part B and Part D accounts in the SMI trust fund are adequately financed under current law, since premium and general revenue income are reset each year to match expected costs. Such financing, however, would have to increase faster than the economy to match expected expenditure growth under current law.

The financial projections in this report indicate a need for additional steps to address Medicare’s remaining financial challenges. Consideration of further reforms should occur in the near future. The sooner solutions are enacted, the more flexible and gradual they can be. Moreover, the early introduction of reforms increases the time available for affected individuals and organizations—including health care providers, beneficiaries, and taxpayers—to adjust their expectations. Congress and the executive branch must work closely together with a sense of urgency to address the exhaustion of the HI trust fund and the growth in HI, SMI Part B, and SMI Part D expenditures.

Click Here to Download the MSP Compliance Protocols User Guide from Gould and Lamb

Download the MSP Compliance Protocols user guide today!


About the Author: Rafael Gonzalez is Director of Medicare Compliance & Post-Settlement Administration. He brings over 20 years of experience in the Workers’ Compensation and Liability insurance industries with a specific focus on Medicare Compliance. Rafael has been responsible for all areas of Medicare Set Aside Allocations (MSAs) including the preparation of MSAs and their approval by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services.  At Gould & Lamb, Rafael’s duties include assisting clients with Medicare Compliance issues, specifically on Post-Settlement Administration and client education.

Gould & Lamb is a global leader of MSA/MSP Compliance Services in the country, serving domestic and international insurance companies, third-party administrators and self-insured entities.

Hadden Files Certiorari in US Supreme Court

On November 21, 2011, the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rendered its much anticipated ruling on Hadden v. United States, finding that despite receiving only a percentage of his damages, the Medicare Secondary Payer Act required Hadden to reimburse Medicare to the full extent that the government had requested and therefore affirmed the judgment of the District Court, which had previously ruled that Hadden owed $62,338.07 in conditional payments out of the $125,000 settlement he had received from the tortfeasor.

On March 30, 2012, Hadden filed his Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. Hadden challenges the government’s argument that Medicare is entitled to 100% of its outlay, regardless of whether the beneficiary receives a reduced recovery by settling his tort claim for only a portion of his undifferentiated damages, is legally incorrect. Therefore the question presented for the Court whether the government is entitled to full reimbursement under the Act when a beneficiary compromises a tort or other claim and recovers a reduced amount, as the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held, or whether the government, like its beneficiary, is entitled to only a proportionate recovery, as the 11th Circuit Court has held.

Hadden argues that the Court should grant the petition and hear the case as there are now conflicting Medicare Secondary Payer Act (MSPA) Circuit opinions, Bradley v. Sebelius, out of the 11th Circuit, and Hadden v. United States, out of the 6th Circuit.

Bradley v. Sebelius

On September 29, 2010, the 11th Circuit Court published its opinion on Bradley v. Sebelius, concluding that the district court erred in upholding the decision of the Secretary because it was unsupported by substantial evidence in the record taken as a whole. It therefore reversed, finding Medicare entitled to the sum of $787.50, as determined by the allocations of the state probate court.

In Bradley, the Secretary refused to accept the probate court’s determination that Medicare should only recover $787.50. Therefore, the estate paid Medicare under protest, perfected its administrative appeal, and exhausted its administrative remedies. The case proceeded as an appeal to the district court from a final decision of the Secretary, wherein the surviving children filed their brief in opposition to the Secretary’s decision, the Secretary filed her brief in support of her final decision, and the case became ripe for district court review.

The district court, adopting the report and recommendation of the magistrate judge, held that the Secretary’s interpretation of the MSP, 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b)(2)(B)(ii)(2006), and its attending regulations, 42 C.F.R. §§ 411.37(c)(1), (c)(2), (c)(3)(2004), was reasonable. Accordingly, the district court held that Medicare was entitled to reimbursement in the amount of $22,480.89, not $787.50, for conditional medical expense payments paid on behalf of the Decedent. Burke then appealed to the 11th Circuit.

The 11th Circuit Court concluded however that the Secretary’s position was unsupported by the statutory language of the MSP and its attending regulations. The Secretary’s ipse dixit contained in the field manual does not control the law. The district court also erred in relying upon the advisory language contained in a field manual as the rationale for its opinion upholding the actions of the Secretary.

Hadden v. United States

In comparison, on November 21, 2011, the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rendered its ruling on Hadden v. United States, finding that the Medicare statute required Hadden to reimburse Medicare to the full extent and therefore affirmed the judgment of the District Court, which had previously ruled that Hadden owed $62,338.07 in conditional payments out of the $125,000 settlement he had received from the tortfeasor.

In Hadden, an administrative law judge found that the plain language of the Medicare statute required Hadden to reimburse Medicare the full amount that Medicare had demanded. The ALJ also found that the reimbursement was not against “equity and good conscience.” The Medicare Appeals Council agreed with each of those findings. Hadden appealed that decision to the district court, which remanded the case back to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council issued an amended decision in which it again agreed with the ALJ’s findings. The district court agreed with them as well, resulting in Hadden’s appeal to the 6th Circuit Court.

In its opinion, the 6th Circuit Court made it clear that it is undisputed that defendant is a “primary plan” and that Hadden is an “entity that received payment from a primary plan” within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1395y. It is also undisputed that Medicare paid for $82,036.17 of medical services rendered to Hadden. Thus, Hadden “shall reimburse” Medicare to the same extent that defendant “had a responsibility to make payment” with respect to those services.

The court pointed out that in 2003, Congress amended § 1395y(b)(2)(B)(ii), making it clear that a primary plan’s responsibility for such payment may be demonstrated by a judgment, a payment conditioned upon the recipient’s compromise, waiver, or release (whether or not there is a determination or admission of liability) of payment for items or services included in a claim against the primary plan or the primary plan’s insured, or by other means. As a result, a beneficiary cannot claim that a third party is responsible for all of his medical expenses on the one hand, and later argue to Medicare that the same party was responsible for only 10% of them, on the other. In his claim against defendant, Hadden did not demand that it pay for only 10% of the medical expenses that he incurred as a result of his accident; he demanded that it pay for all of them. That choice, the court said, has consequences—one of which is that Hadden must reimburse Medicare for those same expenses.

Hadden’s Arguments

In his Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Hadden argues the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decision is erroneous on several counts, as it essentially rewrites the MSPA leading to absurd results. Hadden further argues that the majority’s holding contravenes the legislative history and the government’s interpretation of the MSPA. Hadden also argues the Court of Appeals made reversible error by attempting to avoid Ahlborn, the US Supreme Court’s landmark decision limiting a state’s right to reimbursement when claiming a Medicaid lien, by manufacturing a distinction between responsibility and liability. In addition, Hadden further argues that the Court of Appeals’ holding ignores the well-established policy of favoring settlement of disputes, as compared to prolonged and protracted litigation. Last, Hadden argues the MSP Manual is not entitled to deference, as it is not statutory law or regulatory provisions.

In addition to these arguments, Hadden points out that the question presented is one of exceptional importance and therefore one that the Court must hear. Because of the split in the 6th and 11th Circuits, Medicare, a uniform federal program, is now being implemented disparately. As a result, Hadden argues the Court must intervene to provide consistency for all Circuits to appropriately administer such reimbursement claims. In addition, Hadden argues that given the number of baby boomers coming into the Medicare program over the next several years, this question will recur frequently. Consequently, this case will provide the Court with an opportunity to clarify the erroneous public policy Court of Appeals’ decision.

Click Here to Download the MSP Compliance Protocols User Guide from Gould and Lamb

Download the MSP Compliance Protocols user guide today!


About the Author: Rafael Gonzalez is Director of Medicare Compliance & Post-Settlement Administration. He brings over 20 years of experience in the Workers’ Compensation and Liability insurance industries with a specific focus on Medicare Compliance. Rafael has been responsible for all areas of Medicare Set Aside Allocations (MSAs) including the preparation of MSAs and their approval by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services.  At Gould & Lamb, Rafael’s duties include assisting clients with Medicare Compliance issues, specifically on Post-Settlement Administration and client education.

Gould & Lamb is a global leader of MSA/MSP Compliance Services in the country, serving domestic and international insurance companies, third-party administrators and self-insured entities.