Tricks of the Settlement Trade

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Negotiations can founder when parties (and some mediators) don’t know the tricks that remove settlement obstacles.

Structured Settlements

Structured settlements are ideal for funding Medicare Set-Asides. Structured settlements provide tax-free periodic payments over a specified period of time, which can be for the life of the injured worker. The structure costs less than lump-sum funding, freeing up the balance of the employer’s authorized settlement amount for the injured worker’s other needs. What’s more, unlike with lump-sum funding, lifetime payments cannot be exhausted. The injured worker receives the amount paid by the employer plus income earned from professional investment management. This trick can help bridge a negotiation gap.

From time to time I hear that a structured settlement broker was not called in order to avoid expense. This reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how structures work. There is no cost to consult a structured settlement broker. The structured settlement life insurance company (not any party) pays the broker a commission if a structure is placed.

A structured settlement is not the right choice for every case.  But workers compensation professionals should always investigate this no-risk option.

Special Needs Trusts

Many injured workers and their families rely on Medi-Cal for their non-industrial medical needs.  However, receipt of a large sum pursuant to a Compromise & Release can disqualify the injured worker’s entire family from receipt of these benefits until funds are spent down. Placing settlement funds in a Special Needs Trust allows the injured worker to retain public benefits and still C&R the claim.

Pooled Special Needs Trusts are similar to an attorney trust account in that the trustee pays expenses from a fund holding money for many participants. Compared to a single-beneficiary trust, pooled special needs trusts are inexpensive and quick to set up and administer.

Professional MSA Administration

Did you know professional MSA administration which protects the injured worker’s continued access to Medicare benefits is available for little or no cost? One of the biggest faults of the Medicare Set-Aside system is its reliance on self-administration. Administration mistakes can jeopardize the injured worker’s continued access to Medicare.

Injured workers are more often laborers than MBA’s.  Determining which expenses are Medicare-eligible is complicated and requires constant vigilance as policies change. To retain benefits, the MSA beneficiary must submit an annual report, a burden many injured workers cannot handle. Knowing who to call to obtain free or low-cost professional administration, including reporting, can mean the difference between an open claim and a Compromise & Release.

Reversionary Trusts

The reversionary trust is probably the least used settlement trick.  When parties disagree about future medical needs, a reversionary trust can satisfy both sides’ interests.  A reversionary trust can pay for claim-related medical expenses over a specified time.  If the money is not needed, at the conclusion of the trust the money reverts to the payer.

Some adjusters object that there is no way to account for refunded amounts without leaving the claim open. Applicants may balk at the lack of unfettered access to trust funds. I had one case where the prospect of a reversionary trust caused the claimant to reduce the demand on condition the money was paid in cash now; the case promptly settled.

With the right parties, a reversionary trust is a solution which allows everyone to be right. Or just raising the possibility can get parties to settle.

There Are Many More Tricks

Every workers compensation professional in the process from Notice of Injury to Compromise & Release has a distinct role. If you are considering closing the claim, it’s time to bring in the person whose focus is settlement, a knowledgeable mediator.

HOW POLITICS DRIVES UP THE COST OF YOUR MSA

For President George W. Bush and Congress to get Medicare Part D drug coverage passed in 2003, they had to make significant concessions to big business, including the drug industry. One of the law’s provisions forbids the government from setting rules for negotiating better drug prices. The “noninterference” section says:

In order to promote competition . . . the Secretary [of Health and Human Services]:
(1) may not interfere with the negotiations between drug manufacturers and pharmacies and PDP [Prescription Drug Plan] sponsors; and
(2) may not require a particular formulary or institute a price structure for the reimbursement of covered part D drugs.
42 USC 1395w-111(i)

The result according to a new policy brief from the Carlton University School of Public Policy and Administration is that Medicare Part D plans pay on average 73% more than Medicaid and 80% more than the Veterans Health Administration for brand-name drugs. If Part D plans could negotiate drug costs the way Medicaid and the VA do, savings could reach $16 billion a year.

The study shows that the average per capita expenditure by Americans for pharmaceuticals is more than double the average of 32 other industrialized nations. Contrary to their publicity, American drug companies do not devotend the wealth gained from Part D on new research initiatives.Half of new medical research initiatives come from non-profit entities such as universities. Rather, drug companies have spent their millions in recent years on increased lobbying. If drugs costs decreased, Medicare beneficiaries could expect Part D premiums to also decrease.

Although private insurers pay Part D medical expenses, workers compensation professionals are painfully aware that anticipated Part D-covered expenses must be included in a Medicare Set-Aside. The increased use and rising cost of pharmaceuticals has torpedoed many a proposed workers compensation buy-out. If the purpose of an MSA is to protect Medicare, why are Part D expenses which are paid by private insurers included in the allocation anyway?

Casualty insurance companies and the American Association for Justice are big political players. With the 2016 election cycle coming up, now would seem to be the time for their lobbyists to twist some arms to modify the noninterference provision for the benefit of all Americans.

Do You Speak MSA?

“MSA” stands for Medicare Set-Aside.  Settling a Workers Compensation claim often calls for consideration of Medicare’s interests.  MSA-speak has its own language.  The problem is that the term “MSA” is used to mean different things.  Understanding the 4 different items which may be referred to as “MSA” is critical to success in this area:

MSA Report

MSA Allocation

MSA Approval

MSA Account

The MSA Report is prepared by an MSA allocation company.  It is an analysis of medical reports and paid medical benefits resulting in a recommendation for an MSA allocation.  The report typically provides both lump sum and annuitized funding options.   The report is not “the MSA”.  Multiple versions of a report may be prepared during evaluation and negotiation.  Nothing has been “set aside” just because there is a report.

The MSA Allocation must be in good faith.  The parties can agree on an allocation without a report, though this is usually limited to cases brought by Medicare beneficiaries which settle for less than $25,000 and denied cases where the settlement is unrelated to medical expenses.  An allocation in a settlement document can be as simple as “The parties have taken Medicare’s interests into account and set aside $800 for future Medicare-eligible claim-related expenses.”

Parties can choose to seek from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) Approval of an MSA allocation.  Seeking approval is optional.  Only the two classes of cases which meet CMS “review thresholds” can be submitted.   Class One includes all cases brought by Medicare beneficiaries settling for at least $25,000.  Class Two includes cases where the settlement is at least $250,000 and the worker is likely to be eligible for Medicare within 30 months.  If CMS approves the allocation, it cannot seek more than the approved amount later.

Upon conclusion of the settlement, the worker will open an MSA Account.  This must be a separate account solely for MSA funds.   It is supposed to be interest bearing, though it may be difficult to find an institution that would pay interest on smaller accounts.  If any of these concepts can be called simply “the MSA”, it is the account.  Money has in fact been set aside, separate from the rest of the settlement and separate from the worker’s other assets.  Note that the correct term is “account”, not trust.  MSA Accounts can be custodial or non-custodial.

“Do we need an MSA?” may be appropriate in referring to the entire process.  And there are plenty of times you want to use a verbal shortcut.  But vague references as to whether the subject is a report, allocation, approval or account can sometimes lead to misunderstandings.

Understanding Public Income and Medical Benefits after the Affordable Care Act

acaThere’s a lot more to the Affordable Care Act than buying private health insurance through an exchange marketplace like www.CoveredCA.com.

Four kinds of public benefits can help people get the medical care they need:

  1. Subsidized premiums and co-pays for private health insurance purchased through an exchange.  Commercial insurers issue these policies, not the government.
  2. Medicare, for people who have contributed the necessary number of quarters during their years of employment. Medicare Set-Asides are required when a Medicare beneficiary settles a claim for future medical care.
  3. Expanded Medi-Cal for people with low income; there is no asset limit, no requirement for a set-aside
  4. Traditional Medi-Cal for the indigent; there are income and asset limits, no requirement for a set-aside

These types of benefits are frequently confused, especially because the names are so similar.  For optimal settlement of a Workers Compensation case, you need to know the injured worker’s eligibility for these plans.

FOUR REASONS TO AVOID THE CMS APPROVAL PROCESS FOR MSAs

Many Workers Compensation professionals believe they must secure approval of a Medicare Set-Aside (“MSA”) before they can close out medical benefits.  In California terms, professionals think they cannot complete a full Compromise & Release (C&R) without going through a lengthy administrative process.  This is not true.

1)                   MMSEA reporting makes approval unnecessary for Medicare beneficiaries.  Carriers and self-insureds already report at the beginning of a claim that they are assuming Ongoing Responsibility for Medicals and will report again when the claim is closed.  By the time an MSA is done, Medicare’s systems already block payments for treatment to those body parts.

2)                  Approval is not and never has been required.  The law merely requires that Medicare’s interest be taken into account, which is what you are doing when you incorporate the MSA terms into the C&R.

3)                  Approval does not protect anyone from liability.  When a non-Medicare-beneficiary Applicant self-administers and spends the money incorrectly, all parties could be subject to reimbursement liability.

4)                  The Approval process is unnecessarily torpedoing your settlements.

Do get an MSA Allocation report.  Do create a Set-Aside in accordance with the report.  Consider a structured settlement arrangement to make sure the Medicare Set-Aside is paid over the claimant’s anticipated lifetime.  Consider custodial administration for claims where it is cost-effective.  Seek CMS approval for settlements with a gross amount in excess of $250,000, but don’t let the process ham-string your settlement. 

 

This is an abstract of an article originally published at LexisNexis® Legal Newsroom Workers Compensation Law.  Find the full article at http://tinyurl.com/7f2c8n9.