Medicare liens are a topic of concern for most competent personal injury lawyers. It looks like Medicare is set to begin enforcing a federal law requiring reporting on injury claims made by individuals receiving Medicare.
The key thing about this law for injury lawyers is that if you fail to protect Medicare’s interest, Medicare can go after anyone in the process to recover the payments made: the Medicare recipient, their personal injury lawyer, the defendant, the defense lawyer, or the defendant’s liability insurer. And lets face it- we all know that the client and the defendant won’t have the money by the time Medicare comes looking. The feds are good at protecting themselves, and here they are doing it by putting a target on lawyers and insurers, which should not be a big problem as long as we are doing our jobs the right way.
Our practice at Miller & Zois is to discern early on in the client intake process whether the client is a Medicare recipient (or Medicaid,or state Medical Assistance). This lets us contact Medicare to put it on notice of the injury claim, and to request an itemization of the payments made by Medicare and a statement of Medicare’s claimed interest.
Most of this ultimately operates for the protection of the client. First, the billing for the treatment is at the lower, Medicare rate. Once we have Medicare’s itemization, we can make sure that the treatment listed is actually related to the case. It is not uncommon for a client who is in a car wreck and then suffers an unrelated injury a short time later, to have treatment for the second injury show up on a Medicare lien if the CPT codes for the treatment are similar. We also then have the opportunity to negotiate with Medicare to compromise the lien. Plus, if you don’t do this stuff, not only is the client looking at Medicare coming after them to get the money back, they may find themselves with no coverage, or their Social Security benefits could be docked to recover the payment.
As part of serving on the board of the Maryland Association for Justice, I plan and speak at a fair amount of CLE seminars. These sorts of lien issues are always a concern because of the broad reach of Medicare’s right to repayment. They are also a hot topic on our email listserve. I recommend that all lawyers do what they need to educate themselves on this issue, so they know the proper steps to take to protect their clients’ interest and avoid committing malpractice. It looks like Maryland is heading towards implementing a mandatory CLE requirement, which should help raise awareness in this area.