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.

Despite State Court Order, NJ Federal Court Finds Plaintiff Responsible for Conditional Payments

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.

Key Consideration in Claim Settlement Process

Tom Blackwell, VP Sales & MarketingIt is apparent that self administered allocations present a greater risk than initially thought.  As litigation emerges and Mandatory Insurer Reporting becomes effective, the Insurance Industry has recognized the exposure future medical settlements represent to all parties involved, including defense and plaintiff attorneys.

If the plaintiff improperly disburses MSA funds, Medicare may deny/suspend benefits. Suspension of benefits has and will expose plaintiff attorneys to a private cause of action, pursuant to the Medicare Secondary Payer Act.  Suits may also be filed against carriers under the Unfair Claims Practices Act.

As the current population ages and the number of Medicare beneficiaries under the age of 65 increases, the Medicare program finds itself supporting more beneficiaries with fewer contributors to the program.  By 2020, the Medicare program will disburse over one trillion dollars annually. It is believed that Medicare will make all efforts to ensure that the program remains (somewhat) solvent.  As a result, The Center for Medicare & Medicaid  Services (CMS) will scrutinize allocations and focus on their Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) rights.

Payments From Set-Aside Fund Must Follow Stringent Guidelines As Outlined In Claims Settlement Agreement


Claims Settlement Process

If payments from a set-aside fund are not properly distributed as outlined in the settlement agreement (i.e. MSA report; fee schedule, ICD9 codes and CPT codes), the injured party may lose their Medicare benefits.  In addition, the injured party is left without the financial resources necessary to obtain medical treatment related to the accident. The injured party is placed in a position of having to replenish and refund the misappropriated claim settlement funds.

Carriers, TPAs and Self Insured’s subject to Mandatory Insurer Reporting will provide Medicare with the necessary information to determine who is the primary payer or if a right of recovery on individual claims exists.

Self administration by unqualified individuals is prevalent and increases the risks associated with claim settlements involving Medicare eligible individuals.  Carriers, TPA’s and Self-Insureds recognize the risk and are adopting protocols to combat their exposure by providing post settlement allocation services.  Administration Support services provide all parties to the settlement with the assurance that set-aside funds are disbursed properly and give recourse to the injured party once those funds have been exhausted.  Given the cost of defending against civil court actions, the benefits of providing or funding these services is a best practice for risk adverse insurance entities.

Why A Life Care Plan?

Life Care Plan Essential to Identify Lifetime Care and Cost After Catastrophic Injury

Patricia Rapson, RN, CCM, CLCP, CBIS, MSCCUnderstanding and planning for the life long care of individuals who have sustained catastrophic injury presents many unique challenges for a Life Care Planner. Because these injuries impact all aspects of life, the Life Care Plan must be able to address all the contingencies necessary to maximize functional independence and promote quality of life.

Life care planning is a relatively new sub-specialty which has seen tremendous growth over the past 30 years.  The Life Care Plan represents a dynamic document individualized accurate and current but which also evolves to deal with age related changes encountered throughout the life cycle.  Periodic plan reevaluation and updating is appropriate to ensure that it remains relevant.  Whenever possible this document is developed as a collaborative effort among the various involved parties and should reflect proactive goals which are preventative and rehabilitative in nature.  A well-written Life Care Plan serves as a guide for life long-term care.

Although many professionals offer life care planning services not all are certified by the International Commission on Health Care Certification ICHCCBoard certification by examination is available once certain strict criteria are met and establishes that a baseline level of knowledge and competency has been achieved.  Effective planners typically have many years of experience within their core profession and possess the ability to apply their knowledge and develop multidimensional life care plans which are reasonable appropriate and fiscally responsible.

A Life Care Plan Has Many Applications

Life Care PlanningToday life care plans are utilized in multiple settings. In the insurance industry, the life care plan is used to establish an accurate picture of the long-term needs and costs associated with the onset of a particular disability.   Complicated case issues are clarified and recommendations are presented in a structured and organized format.  Armed with information proactive decisions can be made with regards to ongoing claims management and/or resolution.

In litigation, the life care plan has proved to be a valuable tool for both plaintiff and defense attorneys.  Costs associated with the delivery of lifetime care are often used to establish and quantify the medical damages related to the case.  In addition, the life care planner also brings a unique perspective to the process educating the parties and assisting as council prepares for settlement or trial.  As experts life care planners provide testimony which is based on factual foundation as well as consistent valid and reliable methodologies.  When scrutinized and put to test properly developed life care plan stands on its own merits and can make a difference in the overall settlement and/or resolution of a complicated case.

Pharmacists’ Role in Workers Compensation Medicare Set Aside Allocation

In-house Team of Pharmacists Is Essential for Proper Projection of Part-D Costs in WCMSA

Gould & Lamb Medicare Drug Management ServicesTwo recent CMS policy memoranda have had a significant impact on the way Part-D costs are calculated in a Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set Aside (WCMSA) . The April 3, 2009, Centers for Medicare Medicaid Services  (CMS) policy memo dealing with the independent review of prescription medications in conjunction with the May 14, 2010 CMS procedure memorandum  concerning the exclusion of those identified as “off-label,” pharmacists are playing a bigger role in the WCMSA process and their importance to any MSA vendor is invaluable.

Pharmacy costs will continue to represent a large portion of a total MSA. Due to their high skill set and command of pharmacotherapy, pharmacists can identify therapeutic duplications, potential drug-drug interactions and contraindications that may result in other costs or expenses if continued without intervention.

Pharmacists Key in Identifying Off-label or Excluded Medications in WCMSA Allocation

Furthermore, some studies have shown that 85% of all prescription drugs may be written off-label and most come with some sort of risk when taken for long-term. Pharmacists are best able and most knowledgeable to identify medications that are appropriate for a claimants’ care and those that may be off-label and therefore excluded from a WCMSA allocation. Pharmacists have command of both drug language and literature retrieval, thereby ensuring that the most up-to-date information concerning prescription medications is reported and properly excluded from the WCMSA.

Pharmacists are highly trained and skilled healthcare professionals well versed in pharmacotherapy, drug information, and appropriateness of prescription medications through many years of didactic coursework and specialized training. Today, the profession of pharmacy is more than a “count, pour, lick, stick” operation of years past. Pharmacists are now an integral part of a healthcare team along with both doctors and nurses as the scope of clinical pharmacy has evolved. Pharmacist-Physician collaboration in a WCMSA to determine an appropriate long-term plan may be one way to contain costs ensuring a practical and beneficial medication regimen is established.

Pharmacists are the true “drug experts” and should work harmoniously and in concert with other members of your organization when preparing and possibly defending a WCMSA.

Pharmaceutical Team Essential in Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set Aside Allocation

If there is anything we can take away from the recent CMS policy memoranda is that having an in-house team of pharmacists are essential to the proper projection of Part-D costs. As prescription drug use will only continue in Worker Compensation Medicare Set Aside Allocation, utilizing a pharmacist may be one way to help contain costs while ensuring appropriate medical care for long-term is achieved.

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