October 14, 2021
Settlement – What to Consider for a Medicare Set-Aside (MSA)
When settling a case involving a current Medicare beneficiary and before finalizing, it is important to understand what actions need to be taken to consider Medicare’s interest. What does this all mean and what are the three most important things to consider?
Medicare Set-Aside Decision
The threshold question is whether an MSA needs to be considered or not. That turns on Medicare eligibility. If they are eligible, then the next question is whether future medicals are funded. If the answer to both questions is yes, then a set-aside allocation should be considered. After determining that the injury victim is a current Medicare beneficiary (or even has a reasonable expectation of becoming Medicare eligible within 30 months) and that future medical treatment is needed for their injuries, the question is what is the cost of future injury-related Medicare-covered care. To determine the amount, either the defense or plaintiff need to request preparation of a Medicare Set-Aside allocation report identifying all future injury-related care and expected costs.
Once the decision is made on the amount necessary to cover future injury-related care, the final things to consider are what, if anything will be set aside in a formal MSA; how will the MSA account be funded and how will the MSA be managed?
How is the MSA Account Funded?
Once the MSA allocation is complete and a decision is made to set money aside for future Medicare-covered services, the injury victim has two options to fund the MSA account. The first is a lump sum. From the settlement proceeds, the full specified sum according to the allocation report or the CMS approval is placed into the Medicare Set-Aside account by the injury victim. The full amount of the allocation is placed into the account and available to pay for injury-related care. The benefit of this funding option is all the funds are placed into the MSA account at once. The downside is that the settlement proceeds directly to the injury victim are reduced by the full amount of the allocation, and the funds may sit in the MSA account untouched for years or until appropriate injury-related care is needed. If and when the account is fully exhausted (the balance is taken to zero), Medicare resumes paying for the injury-related care. The biggest downside is that there is fully exhaustion of the entire set-aside amount before Medicare will pay for any future injury-related care instead of annual temporary exhaustion using a structured settlement.
The second option is to fund the MSA with a structured settlement. The allocation report or the CMS approval generally will provide specific structured settlement annuity parameters. The parameters include an initial cash deposit made to establish the account (seed) followed by a series of annual payments over time. Periodic payments from a structured settlement annuity replenish the account annually. The duration of the periodic payments is specified in the allocation report or CMS approval and is based on the life expectancy of the injury victim. The benefit of using a structured settlement to fund a Medicare Set-Aside is the cost savings for the injury victim. The savings can result in additional cash from the settlement in the pocket of the injury victim that is available for other uses. There really is no downside to using a structured settlement annuity to fund an MSA. It is all upside since a structured settlement with a rated age means less has to go into the set aside for a shorter duration. Additionally, temporary exhaustion on an annual basis is possible which means Medicare will resume paying for the injury-related care each year after the annual amount is exhausted until the account is replenished with the next structured settlement payment.
How is the MSA Account Managed?
Once the decision is made about how the MSA will be funded, the last critical item to be decided during settlement is how the set-aside will be administered. There are very specific requirements for administration of a Medicare Set-Aside as outlined by the two options available are self-administration and professional administration. With self-administration, the injury victim maintains control of the MSA account but is also responsible for paying all bills, at the correct rate, from their providers for injury-related care, tracking all payments from the MSA account, annual attestations (as required), and reporting depletion or exhaustion of the account. While CMS provides a helpful resource in the form of a Self-Administration Toolkit, the administration of the MSA may be a daunting task for many injury victims. For injury victims who want to maintain control over their MSA account but are uncertain about meeting the requirements for self-administration, there are neutral, third-party companies who can offer some relief in the form of self-administration assistance.
For those injury victims concerned about the many requirements of administration and prefer help, there are numerous companies offering professional administration services. The professional administrator vendor employs a team of professionals to manage the custodial account created on behalf of the injury victim. The vendor has a clear understanding of the requirements for administration of the MSA account including the need to maintain records of every transaction, adequately reporting depletion or exhaustion, and other requirements. Additional benefits provided by the professional administration vendors may include helping injury victims find care, knowing the appropriate Medicare-approved rates for care, and receiving potential discounts on treatment and prescriptions. In certain cases, professional administration using a Medicare Set-Aside trust might be a preferred solution due to the longevity of a trust arrangement and additional legal protections of having a fiduciary. For those injury victims who may be dual-eligible (Medicare and Medicaid eligible), it is necessary to have professional administration through a Special Needs Trust since the MSA needs to be wrapped in an SNT in this situation. The benefit of a trust arrangement for someone on Medicaid and Medicare is keeping both benefits and having the fiduciary duty of the Trustee along with an MSA administrator.
Piecing it All Together
When settling cases involving someone who is a Medicare beneficiary or someone who might be in the near future, it is important to determine whether there is a need to consider Medicare’s interest. If you determine there is a need, then doing an analysis of the future Medicare-covered injury-related care (an allocation) is a recognized method of doing. Once you do an allocation, the next question is whether to fund a formal MSA. If you do, then consideration should be given as to whether it is done with a lump sum versus a structured settlement annuity. Most times, the benefit of funding via a structured settlement will make it the overwhelmingly logical choice. Once funding decisions have been made, then the last question is how the set-aside will be administered. Typically, these are really good reasons to professionally administer an MSA due to the complexities of doing self-administration.
That probably sounds complicated but having an expert on your side makes it a whole lot easier. Synergy’s team of experts can provide guidance on these difficult issues making it a simple decision for your client to make. Synergy can consult with the client about these issues, prepare a Medicare set-aside allocation report, provide funding options and assist with professional administration options. It is part of our MSP 360 suite of services and a way for law firms to have an end-to-end solution for MSP compliance.
 Helpful information regarding self-administration and a link to the Self-Administration Toolkit can be found here: https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Coordination-of-Benefits-and-Recovery/Workers-Compensation-Medicare-Set-Aside-Arrangements/WCMSA-Self-Administration
In Penelope Stillwell v State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., et al. case (2021 WL 4427081), a plaintiff attempts to impose primary payer status on a liability insurer post-settlement via a qui tam action in federal district court. The U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division addressed in this recent decision Stillwell’s complaint under the False Claims Act (FCA) and the MSP Act, the basis of the qui tam action. The essence of the claim against the insurer, State Farm, was that “by failing either to settle for an amount exceeding the expected medical expenses or to provide in the settlement some other mechanism to pay future medical expenses, the insurers failed to discharge their primary-payer responsibility and remain primary payers for post-settlement medical expenses.” US District Judge Steven D. Merryday dismissed the Stillwell’s complaint with prejudice for a failure to state a claim under the FCA and MSP.
The underlying case involved an Indiana state court negligence action for injuries sustained by William Stillwell, a Medicare beneficiary, during a fall. Although the homeowners’ association, property management and landscaping company insurers reached a settlement agreement with the Stillwells for the lump sum of $200,000, the Stillwells refused to execute the settlement documents since the settlement didn’t include a Medicare Set-Aside to cover William’s expected future medical expenses that were estimated to be $700,000. The Indiana trial court’s determination that the settlement was enforceable, was affirmed by the Indiana Court of Appeals. The terms of the settlement agreement reflected the insurers agreement to pay Medicare’s conditional payments directly from the settlement agreement. After the settlement, CMS demanded reimbursement of $29,509.33 in conditional payments after procurement costs were deducted.
After the losses in the Indiana state courts, the Stillwells sued the insurers under the FCA arguing that the insurers failed to discharge their primary payer responsibility since the settlement was less than the estimated future medical expenses. They also argued that the insurers should remain primary payers for post-settlement medical expenses and that their failure to report this responsibility to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) caused William’s physicians to falsely bill Medicare. The defendants argued that the Stillwells became the primary payers for post-settlement care after enforcement of the settlement agreement. Challenges to the pleadings were also raised.
In considering these arguments, the District Court noted the lack of CMS rules for post-settlement futures in liability settlements when compared to the rules for workers’ compensation settlements. The District Court’s opinion went out of its way to explicitly point out that “CMS has decidedly avoided regulating private liability settlements that include a Medicare beneficiary.” It declined to impose any such obligations since establishment of such rules belongs to the legislature or executive branches.
Stillwell also argued that the insurers hid their status as primary payers from CMS since they failed to report the Total Payment Obligation to Claimant (TPOC) settlement under their Section 111 Mandatory Insurer Reporting obligation. The Court found no support for this assertion since CMS had notice of the settlement based on the resolution of the conditional payments. Similarly, Stillwell’s claim that the insurers failed to complete Section 111 reporting of an Ongoing Responsibility for Medical (ORM) post-settlement was unfounded since there is no such reporting obligation for liability insurers for post-settlement medical expenses.
The Court also considered Stillwell’s claim that a settling party must consider Medicare’s interests by selecting one of the following mechanisms: the creation of a Medicare Set-Aside, an apportionment of part of the settlement for future medical expenses, a payment of a portion of the settlement into the Medicare Trust Fund or the proposal of an alternative plan to CMS. In examining these options, the District Court noted that there was no law that required the creation of a Medicare Set-Aside to cover future medical expenses in a liability case. Since a party may use the entire settlement to pay for post-settlement Medicare covered treatment, there was also no obligation to apportion funds from the settlement. Regarding Stillwell’s claim that the settlement should have included an amount that covers expected future medical expenses, the Court noted no substantive duty to include this in a personal injury claim settlement. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the Stillwells became primarily liable for any future injury-related medical expenses. Since the Stillwells were responsible for post-settlement medical care, the insurers had no ORM to report.
The remaining arguments in the case focused on whether Stillwell’s FCA claims sufficiently alleged causation and a conspiracy between the insurers to violate the FCA and submit false claims or statements to Medicare. The Court found the claims were insufficient and warranted dismissal. Although Stillwell prevailed on her argument that her complaint was not a shotgun pleading, her action was dismissed with prejudice for failing to state a claim.
Since William Stillwell died before the second amended complaint under the False Claims Act (FCA) and MSP Act was submitted, his need for any ongoing post-settlement medical care was moot. Rather, it appears that Penelope Stillwell’s FCA may have been motivated by a financial incentive along with a desire to force the Court to provide guidance regarding the consideration of Medicare’s interest in post-settlement injury-related care in a liability settlement.
It is clear that the Stillwells didn’t understand that the settlement of the case would make William the primary payer for any post-settlement injury-related care. Although his estimated future medical treatment would be about $700,000, liability settlements are compromise settlements that involve many more elements of damages than those found in workers’ compensation settlement. In light of this, it would be extremely rare to have a liability settlement include the full value of the estimated future medical care or even include an apportionment in the first place.
A discussion of the MSP Act and its potential impact on a settlement is a proactive way to prevent MSP confusion. Discussing the ramifications of the MSP with injury victims prior to settlement is important to avoid issues such as this and prevent the need to be in a federal district court post-settlement.
Learn more about Synergy’s MSP Compliance Services here.
September 9, 2021
Structured settlements may be used to fund a Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside (WCMSA). Samantha Webster, Synergy’s Director of Case Management, addresses two common questions that come up about funding of a WCMSA with a structured settlement annuity.
“Are there different structured settlement options to fund a Medicare Set-Aside and what is the difference?”
Yes, there are different types of structured settlement payment plans that can fund a Medicare Set-Aside. After an initial cash deposit is made to start the Medicare Set-Aside account (seed), a structured settlement will make annual payments to replenish/ add to the account. The most common structured settlement option offered by the carrier is a temporary life payment stream. With a temporary life payment stream, the annual payments to the MSA account are payable only as long as the injury victim is alive and for a maximum number of years (the life expectancy used for the MSA allocation). If the injury victim dies before reaching the maximum number of years, the payments stop. There are no structured settlement payments payable to their beneficiaries. A great alternative, but higher cost, is a period certain payment stream. With a period certain payment stream, the annual payments to the MSA account are paid for a certain number of years (generally the life expectancy used for the MSA allocation). Every payment is “guaranteed,” which means that in the event of the injury victim’s death before all payments are made, the remaining payments would go to designated death beneficiaries or the injury victim’s estate. While there are other options, these are the two most common.
“My client’s CMS-approved MSA is being funded with a structured settlement, but the payments do not add up to the total on the CMS approval, is that acceptable?”
CMS will provide parameters for the funding of an approved MSA using a structured settlement. In providing the initial seed amount and the annual payments, CMS rounds the numbers down. In doing so, the initial seed/deposit and the sum of all annual payments may be less than the total amount approved. If an MSA is funded with a structured settlement and the proposal follows the recommendation of CMS with regard to the initial seed/deposit and the annual payment amount, CMS will consider the MSA as being fully funded. If you or your client are concerned about the discrepancy, you can add the difference to the seed or ask your settlement planning professional to include the difference in the annual structured settlement payment stream. Both options will allow your client to match the total CMS-approved MSA amount.
CMS Approved MSA $345,687.00
Initial seed/deposit $48,549.00
Annual Payments $14,149.00
Duration per CMS 21 years
In this case, the seed/deposit plus the annual payments equals $345,679 which is $9 less than the CMS-approved MSA. To relieve any concerns, $9 can be added to the seed/deposit or the annual payments can be increased to $14,149.43.
So, what do lawyers assisting Medicare beneficiaries do given all of the issues surrounding representing Medicare beneficiaries?
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July 8, 2021
Most attorneys are well aware of the need to resolve Medicare’s conditional payments in connection with a client’s settlement. This obligation stems from the Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b)(2)(A)(ii), which prohibits Medicare from making payment for medical services when “payment has been made or can reasonably be expected to be made under a workers’ compensation law or plan of the United States or a State or under an automobile or liability insurance policy or plan (including a self-insured plan) or under no fault insurance.” 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b)(2)(B)(ii). When a primary plan has not made or cannot reasonably be expected to make prompt payment for the service, Medicare may make a payment conditioned upon reimbursement of the payment to the appropriate Medicare Trust Fund. A failure to reimburse the Medicare Trust Fund may result in Medicare filing suit directly for double damages against any or all entities that were responsible for reimbursement of the conditional payments. 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b)(2)(B)(iii); 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b)(3). Section 111 of the Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Extension Act of 2007 (MMSEA) Mandatory Insurer Reporting obligations require the primary plan’s Responsible Reporting Entity to report any liability physical trauma settlement involving a Medicare beneficiary that exceeds $750.00. This reporting requirement puts Medicare on notice of the settlement.
Once Medicare is notified of the settlement, a final conditional payment sweep will be completed, and a conditional payment demand will be issued. This demand will only address payments that were made under traditional Medicare Parts A and B. If the Plaintiff was enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan, conditional payment information must be requested directly from the plan. This step should not be overlooked since Medicare Advantage Plans have the same recovery rights under the MSP Act as traditional Medicare.
The MSP Act and supporting regulations set out limits on the conditional payment amounts that must be reimbursed to Medicare. If Medicare does not have to take legal action to recover, Medicare is only able to recover the lesser of either “the amount of the Medicare primary payment” or “the full primary payment amount that the primary payer is obligated to pay without regard to any payment, other than a full primary payment that the primary payer has paid or will make, or in the case of a primary payment beneficiary, the amount of the primary payment.” 42 C.F.R. 411.24(c)(1). Section 411.37(d) of the regulations provides: “If Medicare payments equal or exceed the judgment or settlement amount, the recovery amount is the total judgment or settlement payment minus the total procurement costs.” If no procurement costs or attorney’s fees are reflected on the final settlement detail documentation provided to Medicare at the time of settlement, Medicare will not reduce the amount of their conditional payment demand. Attorneys should be aware of this should they seek to reduce or waive their fees.
Addressing Conditional Payments in Liability Cases
As a starting point, it is very important to understand that if the Final Demand is not paid timely, interest begins to accrue regardless of appeals or requests to reduce the amount owed to Medicare. There is no tolling of the interest meter while you dispute the amount due. Therefore, it is prudent to make sure that the conditional payment Final Demand is paid timely regardless of how you attempt to reduce the amount owed to Medicare.
The most common method of disputing conditional payments involves a request to remove unrelated charges from the conditional payment demand. The unrelated charges may appear on Medicare’s Payment Summary Form due to a “grouper” error within Medicare’s data collection system. They may also come from comingled billing from the service providers. In cases where the conditional payments are related to the injuries that are being settled, the Plaintiff may end up with very little of a net recovery.
There are two additional conditional payment calculation methods that may be available in certain liability cases. Both the “Self-Calculated Conditional Payment Amount” process and the “Fixed Percentage Option” have specific conditions that must be met before they may be used. The “Self-Calculated Conditional Payment Amount” process is available under the following circumstances: the claim involves an injury caused by physical trauma; the medical treatment was completed at least 90 days before and no further treatment is expected; the total settlement/judgment/award or other payment must be less than $25,000; and the date of the incident must have occurred more than six months prior to the submission of the self-calculated final conditional payment amount. Although the use of this process requires the plaintiff to give up the right to appeal the debt, the plaintiff retains the right to request a waiver of recovery.
The “Fixed Percentage Option” is available for smaller liability settlements. In order to be eligible for this, the following conditions must be met: the liability settlement/judgment/award or other payment must be related to a physical trauma; the total settlement must equal or be less than $5,000; the election of the option must be made within Medicare’s timeframe and prior to the issuance of any conditional payment reimbursement request from Medicare; and there are no other pending settlements, judgments, awards or other payments related to the incident. Additional details regarding the exact processes for both the “Self-Calculated Conditional Payment Amount” and “Fixed Percentage Option” methodologies may be found at the Benefits Coordination and Recovery Center website.
Other options to consider involve payment of the final demand in order to stop the interest on the demand from running (as noted at the start of this section). Once this occurs, the plaintiff may seek a compromise or waiver of the conditional payment debt in order to get Medicare to reduce their conditional payment claim and issue a full or partial refund of the payment. The three statutory provisions that may be used for this are: §1870(c) of the Social Security Act (financial hardship waiver); §1862(b) of the Social Security Act (best interest of the program waiver); and the Federal Claims Collection Act (FCCA) (compromise). The authority to consider beneficiary requests for waivers under §1870(c) of the Act sits with the Benefits Coordination & Recovery Contractor (BCRC), while the authority to waive Medicare claims under §1862(b) and to compromise claims under FCCA, is reserved exclusively to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The basis for any waiver request comes from the regulations that provide:
“There shall be no recovery if such recovery would defeat the purposes of this chapter or would be against equity and good conscience.” See 42 U.S.C. § 1395gg(c); 42 C.F.R. 405.355-356; 42 C.F.R. 405.358; 20 C.F.R. 404.506-512; Medicare Secondary Payer Manual, Chapter 7 § 50.
To apply for the “Financial Hardship” waiver, the Medicare beneficiary must file form SSA-632-BK with the BCRC which documents their financial situation. Arguments that may be made in support of this position include showing that the repayment of the conditional payments would deprive the beneficiary of income required for ordinary and necessary living expenses. If someone is dual eligible, meaning they get both Medicaid and Medicare, it is great evidence of financial hardship since people who qualify for Medicaid have very little in the way of assets. That being said, even a 7-figure settlement could still be approved for a financial hardship waiver of the amount owed to Medicare.
The “Best Interest of the Program” waiver request under § 1870(b) of the Social Security Act is made to CMS. This rather vague criteria is nowhere further defined and lies completely at the discretion of CMS. Although this request is separate and distinct from a request for a Compromise under the Federal Claims Collection Act (FCCA), it is beneficial to seek both a request for this waiver and a request for a compromise when seeking a refund from CMS of the amounts the beneficiary has already paid to satisfy the “Final Demand.”
The third and final method for obtaining a refund from Medicare is a Compromise request made to CMS. Authority to grant a Compromise is granted to CMS under the Federal Claims Collection Act (FCCA). 31 U.S.C. § 3711. This section allows Federal agencies the authority to compromise where: the cost of collection does not justify the enforced collection of the full amount of the claim; there is an inability to pay within a reasonable time on the part of the individual against whom the claim is made; or the chances of successful litigation are questionable, making it advisable to seek a compromise settlement.” Medicare Secondary Payer Manual, Chapter 7 § 50.
The resolution of conditional payment reimbursement claims is a time-consuming process. To maximize the plaintiff’s net recovery, it is important to be familiar with the various options for calculating, disputing, and seeking a refund of conditional payments. When addressing conditional payment issues, consider the following best practice tips:
- Confirm the type of Medicare coverage your client was enrolled in from the date of the accident to the date of settlement.
- Make sure the Final Demand is paid within the time period specified in the recovery demand letter.
- Determine if the Self-Calculated Conditional Payment Amount is available in the case.
- Determine if the Fixed Percent Option process is available in the case.
- Determine if the final conditional payment demand should be disputed.
- Provide Medicare with the Final Settlement Details to secure a procurement cost reduction.
- Consider whether a full or partial conditional payment refund may be secured in the case.
April 8, 2021
The nature of the Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside (WCMSA) has evolved over the years since the 2001 Patel Memo. That evolution has seen us move from every WCMSA that met the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) internal workload review threshold being submitted to CMS for review, to now a practitioner may be offered an evidence-based medicine WCMSA, a “certified” WCMSA or a compromise WCMSA. An understanding of the differences between these various types of proposed WCMSAs and their projection methodology is important when it comes to settlement discussions.
The WCMSA that most practitioners are familiar with is the “traditional” WCMSA. This type of WCMSA is submitted to CMS for review when CMS’ internal workload review threshold is met. Although CMS recommends that parties seek Agency (CMS) review of the WCMSA, the WCMSA Reference Guide (Guide) specifically states: “There are no statutory or regulatory provisions requiring that you submit a WCMSA amount proposal to CMS for review.” The Guide further states that “if you choose to use CMS’ WCMSA review process, the Agency requests that you comply with CMS’ established policies and procedures.”
The Guide includes the general frequency schedules for various diagnostic studies, implants, and drugs used by the Workers Compensation Review Contractor (WCRC) in determining future treatment costs. Given the “cookie-cutter” projection methodology that is used by the WCRC, the CMS-determined WCMSA may, at times, overfund the future treatment. The benefit to CMS review, however, is the assurance that CMS will become the primary payer upon review/approval of the allocation and proper exhaustion of the WCMSA funds.
A second type of WCMSA is the evidence-based medicine WCMSA. This may or may not be submitted to CMS for review. Rather than projecting future treatment based on the Guide’s frequency schedules, the projections instead focus on evidence-based medicine guidelines, such as those that may be found in the Official Disability Guidelines (ODG) or American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) guidelines. It is generally lower than a “traditional” WCMSA and will also limit projections based on state law arguments. If the evidence-based medicine WCMSA is submitted to CMS for review and approved by CMS, the WCMSA may more accurately allocate funds for the future treatment.
A practitioner may also be presented with a “certified” WCMSA that is not submitted to CMS for review. The “certified” WCMSA projection methodology looks to evidence-based medicine guidelines. It also comes with an assurance that the reasonableness of the certified WCMSA projections will be defended against any challenges by CMS. The WCMSA funds, however, must be either professionally administered or “self-administered with support” in order to extend the life of the funds. Since this type of WCMSA is not submitted to CMS for review, CMS is not bound by it.
The compromise WCMSA is used in disputed settlements and is never submitted to CMS for review. It is based on the calculation methodology that is outlined in 42 C.F.R. § 411.47. Although this provision discusses conditional payments, it should equally apply to the apportionment of future medical damages in a compromise settlement.
Although the majority of WCMSAs are prepared by the defense, it is important that the practitioner scrutinize the methodology used in the WCMSA projections. If the WCMSA is not going to be submitted to CMS for review, an evidence-based medicine projection methodology is more appropriate than the “cookie cutter” projections used in the traditional WCMSA. This difference is particularly significant when the WCMSA is to be carved out from the settlement rather than added to the settlement. When in doubt as to the best approach, Synergy’s team is available to guide you through your Medicare Secondary Payer compliance options.
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