US Court of Appeals Provides Opinion on Michigan Spine and Brain Surgeons v. State Farm

Russell S whittle, Esq VP MSP ComplianceThe United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit published its opinion in Michigan Spine and Brain Surgeons, PLLC v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company on July 16, 2014.  The long awaited decision addresses the Circuit’s view regarding the Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) Act’s private cause of action provision. At its core, the parties asked the court to determine whether a health care provider that had treated a Medicare beneficiary following an automobile accident could pursue the insurance carrier under the (MSP) where the carrier had denied liability for the accident.

State Farm argued that it was not a “primary plan” under the MSP Act, nor was it a group health plan. Because State Farm was a non group health plan, the MSP action could not proceed, they asserted. The District Court had previously ruled in favor of State Farm on the issue, construing the admittedly confusing MSP Act to require denial of coverage based upon the Medicare eligibility of the injured plaintiff. Michigan Spine and Brain Surgeons argued that the MSP, when read in conjunction with the clear intent of Congress to ensure the fiscal health of Medicare, operated to make State Farm a primary plan and thus a target for recovery from Michigan Spine despite the ambiguity in the statute concerning the MSP application to group versus non-group health plans.

The Sixth Circuit declined to read the MSP statute narrowly, finding that the intent of the MSP statute was to allow providers to recover from liability insurance carriers that make primary payment on behalf of a Medicare beneficiary despite arguments that the insurance companies should not be considered group health plans, subject to the provider’s private cause of action.

The decision, as noted, broadly construes the MSP statute making recovery actions by providers against insurance companies that deny liability more likely, at least in the Sixth Circuit (Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee). It underscores the importance of determining Medicare eligibility and the extent to which an injured party received medical care that may formulate the basis of a private cause from a provider seeking reimbursement for Medicare related expenses following an accident involving no-fault coverage. The case is sure to formulate the basis of reimbursement actions from providers going forward. It is vitally important in the handling of these cases to recognize the potential for MSP actions and to address those issues during the discovery and resolution stages of claims and to ensure that a settled case remains closed.


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About the Author: Russell S. Whittle, Esq., is the Vice President of MSP Compliance for ExamWorks Clinical Solutions (formerly Gould & Lamb). In his twenty plus years of practice prior to joining the company, Mr. Whittle practiced primarily in the area of insurance defense, representing the interests of large insurers and employers in both workers’ compensation and general automobile liability matters.

CMS Clarifies Its February Alerts Regarding Section 111, MMSEA Reporting

Russell S whittle, Esq VP MSP ComplianceOn February 28, 2014 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published its formal notice of the change in the reporting threshold for liability (including self insurance) settlements, judgments, awards or other payments.  The notice follows the recent publication of two Alerts of February 18.   Those Alerts announced a potential change in the Mandatory Insurer Reporting obligations of Responsible Reporting Entities pursuant to the changes instituted by the Strengthening Medicare and Repaying Taxpayers (SMART) Act.

In the new notice, CMS has advised that an updated Non-Group Health Plan User Guide, Version 4.2 Chapters I – V, can now be downloaded to incorporate the change in the Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP Extension Act (MMSEA) necessitated by its February 18 changes and the SMART Act requirements.

CMS has now determined that, for certain liability insurance settlements, judgments, awards or other payments:

  • The Current mandatory reporting threshold for liability insurance (including self-insurance) Total Payment Obligation to Claimants is $2000 for settlements, judgments, awards or other payments occurring on or after October 1, 2013.
  • For settlements, judgments, awards or other payments exceeding $1000 on or after October 1, 2014, reporting is required no later than the first quarter of January, 2015.  This is a change from the previously published threshold amount of $300.
  • Error Code CJ07 – where Ongoing Responsibility for Medical has not been accepted and where the settlement, award or judgment amount does not meet the reporting threshold – will still occur on claims submitted with a cumulative TPOC Amount less than $300.  It is expected to be changed to coincide with the new $1000 reporting threshold later this year.

As had been discussed in the wake of the February 18 Alerts, questions had been raised regarding the effective date of the changes and the ability of CMS, from a technical standpoint, to implement them. The notice now puts a clear timeframe on the applicability of the change, the settlements to which they apply and the anticipated technical Error Code update.

Gould & Lamb will incorporate the new changes into its Mandatory Insurer Reporting Services program for all settlements that are effected by the change and will also add the appropriate logic to ensure Error Coding is consistent with any CMS update.

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.


US House of Representatives Passes SMART Act of 2012

Russell S whittle, Esq VP MSP ComplianceThe United States House of Representatives today passed the Saving Medicare and Repaying Taxpayers (SMART) Act as part of a broader legislative effort. The SMART Bill was attached to House Bill 1845 Medicare IVIG Access Bill which provides for a study on issues relating to access to intravenous immune globulin (IVIG) for Medicare beneficiaries in all care settings and authorizes a demonstration project to examine the benefits of providing coverage and payment for items and services necessary to administer IVIG in the home.

The SMART Bill allows the claimant or applicable plan to notify the Secretary of HHS 120 days before the expected date of settlement, judgment, award, or other payment, and obtain a statement of the reimbursement amount from a website the Secretary will make available. If settlement, judgment, award or other payment is made during such period, then the last statement of reimbursement amount downloaded during such period shall constitute the final conditional amount subject to recovery related to such settlement, judgment, award, or other payment. No later than November 15 before each year, the Secretary is required to calculate and publish single threshold amount for settlements, judgments, awards or other payments for conditional payment obligations from liability insurance (including self-insurance), workers’ compensation laws or plans, and no fault insurance for that year. Each such annual single threshold amount for a year shall equal the expected average cost of collection incurred by the United States (including payments made to contractors) for a conditional payment from liability insurance (including self-insurance), workers’ compensation laws or plans, and no fault insurance.

As for the $1,000 mandatory insurer reporting penalty, the Bill states that insuring entities “may be subject” to a civil money penalty of up to $1,000 for each day of noncompliance. The Secretary must publish a notice in the Federal Register soliciting proposals for the specification of practices for which sanctions will not be imposed, including for good faith efforts to identify a beneficiary. After considering the proposals submitted, the Secretary, in consultation with the Attorney General, shall publish in the Federal Register proposed specified practices for which such sanctions will not be imposed. After considering any public comments, the Secretary shall issue final rules specifying such practices.

The Bill also modifies reporting requirements so that an applicable plan is permitted, but not required, to access or report to the Secretary beneficiary social security account numbers or health identification claim numbers.

In addition, the Bill establishes a statute of limitations by indicating that an action may not be brought by the United States with respect to payment owed unless the complaint is filed not later than 3 years after the date of the receipt of notice of a settlement, judgment, award, or other payment made.

The SMART Bill was described as a bipartisan effort targeted at improving the Medicare Secondary Payer system and to create efficiency and accountability in the MSP Recovery system.

The Bill will now move on to the United States Senate where it could be presented for vote or referred to a committee where it may be reviewed to determine whether it requires additions, deletions or other modifications or whether it can be approved in the form submitted.  Gould and Lamb is actively monitoring and is involved with many legislative bills and committees including the SMART Act  We will continue to follow the Bill’s progress as it moves over to the Senate and will keep our clients informed.  If anyone has any questions please feel free to contact your Gould & Lamb representative directly or the entire executive is available to answer any questions.

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: Russell S. Whittle, Esq., is the Vice President of MSP Compliance for Gould & Lamb, LLC. In his twenty plus years of practice prior to joining Gould & Lamb, LLC, Mr. Whittle practiced primarily in the area of insurance defense, representing the interests of large insurers and employers in both workers’ compensation and general automobile liability matters.

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.