January 12, 2023
Dealing with medical liens is the dreaded case after the case for most personal injury attorneys. As a personal injury attorney, you’ve worked hard to prove the tortfeasor has liability for the damages incurred by your injured client and secure a recovery.
When settlement is reached and the funds are received, ERISA plans, FEHBA plans, hospitals, and providers as well as government benefit programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Military agencies are standing in wait with their greedy eyes on the prize –your client’s settlement money. What gives these plans the right to seek repayment from an injured party’s settlement?
This article focuses on ERISA, FEHBA, Medicare, and Medicare Advantage plan recovery rights. A future article will focus on Military, Hospital/Provider, and Medicaid recovery rights.
When an injured party receives their health insurance through an employer provider health insurance, it is more often than not an ERISA plan. The primary exceptions are for government and religious employers. ERISA plans come in two forms: Self-funded and fully insured. These ERISA plans’ recovery rights are subject to different laws based on their funding status. So, when dealing with these plans, understanding and confirming the funding status is the first step to knowing whether the injured party needs to reimburse and for how much.
The seminal case for ERISA plans was the McCutchen decision by the US Supreme Court. This case provides that the ERISA plan policy language is supremely important to the ERISA plan’s recovery right. Because of this, it is vital to obtain the right documents and obtain them from the right place – this starts with the Master Plan Document and a request directly to the employer group.
FEHBA plans are for federal employees. The seminal decision by the US Supreme Court in Nevils occurred in 2017 where it was held that insurance carriers operating under FEHBA can assert subrogation and reimbursement rights despite any state laws stating otherwise. The decision primarily focused on federal preemption. Otherwise, there has not been much litigation on FEHBA plans and their right to recover. As such, subrogation vendors for these plans stand firm until challenged.
Medicare (Parts A and B)
For traditional Medicare, there isn’t a pivotal case to look to. Instead, Medicare relies upon strong statutory rights for the government to collect. The Medicare Secondary Payer Act prohibits traditional Medicare from making payment when a primary plan should make the payment. This is the case when the Medicare beneficiary is injured, has medical treatment that is paid for by Medicare, and is entitled to compensation by another “plan” or entity like no-fault, Workers’ Compensation, or liability insurance. However, there is one exception to this rule where Medicare is allowed to make payment on the condition that it be paid back. The exception authorizes Medicare to make a conditional payment if the primary plan “has not made or cannot reasonably be expected to make payment with respect to such item or service promptly.”
To resolve conditional payments, a beneficiary must notify Medicare through the Benefits Coordination & Recovery Center (BCRC). The BCRC begins identifying claims that Medicare has paid conditionally that are related to the case based on information reported regarding the type of incident, illness, or injury alleged. Medicare’s recovery rights run from the “date of incident” through the date of settlement/judgment/award. A beneficiary or their representative may dispute claims added to Medicare’s Conditional Payment ledger. Once the case settles, Medicare is to be notified and a Final Demand is issued.
Once a Final Demand is issued, the beneficiary may request a Waiver or Compromise. If the Final Demand has already been paid, the beneficiary will receive a refund from Medicare if the request is granted. To obtain a Waiver of Medicare’s interest, there must be financial hardship. An SSA-632 form must be completed which provides financial information about the beneficiary. Medicare can also grant a Waiver if Medicare’s reimbursement would be against “equity and good conscience.” Lastly, a Compromise can be requested where the beneficiary offers a reduced reimbursement to Medicare. Medicare may choose to accept the compromise based on an assessment of three factors: 1) whether the cost of collection justifies the enforced collection of the full amount of the claim; 2) an understanding on whether the beneficiary is able to pay within a reasonable time; and 3) whether the chances of successful litigation are questionable, making it desirable to seek a compromised settlement.
Medicare Advantage (Part C)
The Medicare Act permits a Medicare beneficiary to choose a private insurance carrier as their Medicare administrator versus receiving benefits from traditional Medicare. This is known as a Medicare Advantage Plan. Medicare Advantage Plans are governed by the Medicare Act and funded by CMS. Medicare Advantage Plans are administered by insurance carriers like Aetna, Humana, Blue Shield, and United.
The seminal Medicare Advantage case was decided in 2012. The Third Circuit found under the Medicare Act that a Medicare Advantage Plan has the same rights as traditional Medicare. Specifically, that the Advantage Plan has a private cause of action against primary payers and can collect for double damages if not reimbursed.
The ongoing issue s is that subrogation vendors representing the Medicare Advantage plans claim the same rights as Medicare but do not accept that they have the same responsibilities. Through a variety of misinterpretations and bad law, these Medicare Advantage recovery vendors often feel they have more rights than traditional Medicare. They believe they can collect as Medicare but do not have to reduce for procurement costs as is required under the Act. Medicare Advantage plans also do not have appropriate appeal systems set up and appear to be completely clueless about the fact that traditional Medicare often grants waivers and compromises including refunds post payment of the Final Demand.
Assessing the reimbursement rights of health insurance companies and medical benefit programs is a required part of representing an injury party. However, full reimbursement of their demand is not always required. There are many avenues to explore whether the Plan has right to claim what they are demanding and a variety of reasons that they may not have the right to receive as much as they are asking for from the injury victim.
Synergy is your lien resolution partner. Our team of experts have hundreds of years of combined experience in handling liens, dealing with insurance carrier recovery departments and subrogation vendors. By partnering with Synergy’s deep team of lien resolution experts today, you can put their decades of subrogation experience to work for you and your client accelerating the resolution of liens. Now is the time to leverage our subrogation-busting team to resolve troublesome and time-consuming liens.
Learn more about partnering with Synergy for all your lien resolution needs.
 US Airways v McCutchen, 569 U.S. 88 (2013)
 Coventry Health Care of Missouri v Nevils, 581 U.S. 87 (2017)
 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b)(2)(A)
 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b)(2)(B)(i)
 § 1870(c) of the Social Security Act (42 CFR § 405.355 and 20 CFR 404.506-512)
 See Federal Claims Collection Act of 1966 (31 USC § 3711) §§ 1870(c) and 1862(b) of the Social Security Act
 42 U.S.C. § 1395w-21
 Avandia Marketing etc. adv. Humana Medical Plan, 685 F.3d 353(3rd Cir. 2012)