Many clients who have been harmed as the result of the fault of others are finding out how bad Medicare can be. Those who have brought valid auto crash, medical malpractice or construction site cases eventually wind up with out of court settlements or with jury verdicts. Then Uncle Sam steps in and asserts a claim for reimbursement for all the medical bills they paid along the way.
It is the opinion of many scholars that these claims have no merit. Nonetheless, they persist in contending they have a “lien” for the amount they paid. Assuming they are correct, the problem begins with the fact that you cannot ever find out how much they contend they are owed. Despite numerous calls and letters, the Medicare personnel just never seem able to provide accurate data. They eventually will give you a figure that may include thousands of dollars they were never paid as a result of the case you are handling. Congressman Robert Andrews (D-NJ) has been briefed on this issue and has requested a full investigation from the Government Acccounting Office (GAO). The United States Supeme Court already has ruled in a Medicaid setting that there is no right to repayment where the recovery is not for medical bills. Hopefully, the day will come when the same will apply to Medicare.
In the meantime, clients and their attorneys have to be very vigilant to make sure whatever amount Medicare contends they are owed is set aside in an interest bearing account, pending final resolution. Some are waiting three years until the statute of limitations expire, and then refunding the money to clients. Others are applying to the court to get an order of allocation, i.e. that the settlement was for non-economic damage and not for medical bills. Be careful, however. Medicare has threatened to cut off future medical benefits where their “liens” are not repaid and will not hesitate to go after law firms who ignore their demands. The time has come to force Medicare to be more responsive to those who have been injured. After spending $800 billion in Iraq, it seems unfair to try to recoup a few dollars from an injured senior citizen. These efforts show a government without compassion, something that hopefully a new President will address.