On October 13, 2022, in a surprise move, CMS withdrew its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) pertaining to the protection of Medicare’s future interests in liability and other Non Group Health Plan (“NGHP”) settlements, judgments, awards, payments, or other arrangements (“Settlements”) without any official or unofficial comment. Many people in the Medicare Secondary Payer Compliance industry felt that this NPRM, most recently announced in 2018 and continued for several years, was finally going to add CMS’s clarifying “take” on how it would suggest settling parties reasonably consider and protect Medicare’s future interests in liability Settlements and that CMS would issue regulations or guidance specific to Liability Medicare Set-Asides (“LMSAs”).
The most recent 2018 iteration of the NPRM was designed to address protection of Medicare’s future interests in any NGHP Settlement, including removing what it considered obsolete regulations. For the past several years, stakeholders in the MSP compliance community have been waiting and speculating how such regulations could be devised to account for all the convoluted factors that exist in liability claims while adding clarity to steps CMS might suggest to be taken to protect Medicare’s interests in liability settlements.
Earlier in 2022, there had been a stakeholder meeting as well as a letter from the MARC coalition urging CMS to not move forward with the NPRM. It seems that the MSP compliance stakeholder community once again rallied and provided enough reason to give CMS pause. Some have called into question whether the MSP as enacted, gives CMS authority to issue regulations regarding liability futures, and some court decisions discussing liability MSAs and the need for an exhaustion of administrative remedies prior to a court of competent jurisdiction being able to review a LMSA proposal, may have also contributed to CMS’s decision to not move forward with this NPRM at this time.
The argument follows if federal courts have determined it is premature to review proposed LMSAs due to the failure of a party to exhaust their administrative remedies with CMS, then how could CMS insert its own administrative review process via guidance or regulation, unless the MSP were amended to provide for that authority. Examples of court cases discussing these issues, include Silva v. Burwell, 2017 WL 5891753 (D. N.M. 2017); Sipler v. Trans Am Trucking, Inc., 881 F.Supp. 2d 635 (D. N.J. 2012); Bruton v. Carnival Corporation, 2012 WL 1627729 (S.D. Fla. 2012); Abate v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., 2020 WL 7027481 (W.D. Pa. November 30, 2020); and Stillwell v. State Farm, et. al., 2021 WL 4427081 (M.D. Fla., September 27, 2021).
The MSP still forbids Medicare from making payment when a primary plan is in place meaning if there is a Settlement from a NGHP plan including from a liability carrier or self-insured defendant, Medicare has a statutory lien right under the MSP to recover its conditional payments minus procurement costs and can charge high interest and potentially even double damages for non-compliance.
If a current Medicare beneficiary settles a liability case, they should be informed about the MSP and a plan for future care should be set in place. The federal law is clear that conditional payments could arise prior to or after a settlement, so a risk tolerance cost benefit analysis should be performed between attorney and plaintiff as to the best steps to ensure Medicare is not prematurely billed.
Medicare has the right under the MSP to deny payment for injury related future Medicare covered medicals (items, services, and expenses, including Prescription Drug Expenses). Will it? We have seen times when it has flagged liability cases even while a liability claim or portion of a liability claim is pending (often because it believes the matter was settled but it was only settled with one of several defendants/carriers). While CMS does not seem to regularly do this, the goal for an attorney representing an injured plaintiff is to provide a settling plaintiff with enough information to make an informed decision regarding what is the best course of action for them and to document what decision was made after such informed consent was provided.
Only two federal circuits (3rd and 11th) have held Medicare Part C – Medicare Advantage Plans (MAPs) to have identical recovery rights as traditional Medicare under the MSP. However, those MAPs still have contractual subrogation rights, and attorneys representing Defendants, as well as attorneys representing their plaintiff clients, should evaluate whether any MAP plan or Medicare Part D – Prescription Drug Plan (PDP) have a subrogation/lien interest to be reimbursed for pre-settlement payments that were compensated by the Settlement.
Each attorney should provide their clients with enough information to help them assess their risks and to determine if denial of injury related future medicals or the potential for recovery of future conditional payments by Medicare is a risk they are willing to take. There are a wide range of products being offered to address MSP exposure and to protect Medicare’s interests in liability settlements based on the varying risk tolerance levels of your client. Count on Medivest to help you spot these intricacies so you can deliver prudent advice to your clients.
As background, the Medicare Secondary Payer Statute, found at 42 U.S.C. Section 1395y(b)(2), or most commonly known as the MSP, is the federal law enacted in 1980 that amended the Social Security Act and its Medicare specific amendments to make health plans other than Workers’ Compensation to be primary to Medicare. Workers’ Compensation plans were primary to Medicare from Medicare’s enactment into law in 1965. The MSP was Congress’ mandate to Medicare and The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”), the subagency that administers Medicare, forbidding Medicare from making payments when a primary plan was in place to promptly make payment. The primary plans are liability including self-insureds (and automobility BI), No Fault, and Worker’s Compensation and are known as the Non Group Health Plans (NGHP) to be distinguished from Group Health plans that offer health care insurance. While No Fault claims and Workers’ Compensation claims are typically paid immediately upon a claim being filed and accepted for Ongoing Responsibility for Medicals (“ORM”), liability carriers rarely accept responsibility to make payments early on in the life of a liability case. Liability carriers may choose to offer a settlement but almost never accepts liability.
Because the regulations under the MSP define prompt payment as within 120 days, the MSP also allows Medicare to make payments for medical services when a Medicare beneficiary will be compensated by a defendant in a liability case or their/its primary plan carrier under the condition that Medicare be able to recover those conditional payments it made that were claim related and compensated by a settlement, judgment, award, or other arrangement (collectively, “Settlement”). The MSP makes the primary plan Defendant, and any person or entity who receives a part of the Settlement proceeds, jointly and severally liable for repayment of conditional payments. The law also allows for interest and potentially double damages against liable people and entities that fail to make payment promptly.
The payment by any NGHP plan is what triggers the MSP’s recovery rights under the law regardless of whether liability is accepted or not. The protection of exposure to the MSP’s recovery rights is also commonly referred to as protecting Medicare’s past and future interests in a Settlement. Protecting Medicare’s past interests in a settlement includes providing notification of a claim and checking with CMS to determine whether it is claiming any payments it has made from the date of an injury up to the date of settlement are conditional payments to be reimbursed. Plaintiff attorneys typically provide this type of notification or hire third parties to confirm whether there are any conditional payments and then report settlement details to obtain a discount from the conditional payment amount and obtain a demand from CMS reflecting a deduction for pro-rated fees and expenses allowed under the regulations to the MSP.
The regulations to the MSP include some regulations that are generally applicable to any of the NGHP plans and some that are specific to Workers’ Compensation claims and Settlements. CMS has never promulgated regulations that are specific to liability claims or No Fault claims and Settlements. CMS has also issued guidance regarding the protection of Medicare’s future interests in Workers’ Compensation claims and Settlements via its Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside Arrangement (“WCMSA”) Reference Guide, now in version 3.7 issued June 6, 2022.
In 2012, CMS issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the protection of Medicare’s future interests in settlements intended to extend from the already regulated area of Workers’ Compensation (“WC”) Settlements to the other NGHP areas and even solicited comments from the MSP stakeholder community. After many entities pointed out the extreme differences between liability claims and WC claims such as issues of comparative or contributory negligence, the fact that liability claims often contain awards for Pain and Suffering, Loss of Enjoyment of Life, Loss of Consortium for married plaintiffs, etc., CMS ultimately withdrew that NPRM in 2014.