The 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.
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.