Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bankruptcy & Medicare Liens

I have a case where the plaintiffs were involved in a wreck, lost their jobs, and declared bankruptcy (chapter 7) as a result. Medicare paid for all of the injuries resulting from the wreck. We would like to settle, but I am not sure what kind of priority Medicare would take in the bankruptcy court. Please let me know your thoughts. Thanks.

Tennessee Attorney

Thanks for your question. The entire settlement amount may be considered an asset of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy estate, depending on timing and disclosure issues. Timing issues refer to when the signature injuries occurred when compared to the time the debtor-client filed the bankruptcy petition. And disclosure issues refer to whether the settlement was listed as a contingent asset (even if not reduced to a judgment or payment) on the bankruptcy schedules. If it was not listed on the Schedules, the bankruptcy would need to be reopened so that the asset could be properly distributed among all creditors who filed a claim. (Medicare may not be the only issue to consider.)

Finally, the Chapter 7 trustee, if in possession of settlement funds will have a duty to reimburse Medicare should conditional payment reimbursement be involved within the meaning of the MSP statutes. Medicare also takes the position that timing is a critical factor in determining whether Medicare has a reimbursement right. In fact, any Medicare claims matters involving bankruptcy are automatically escalated to policy analysts for CMS (at the regional offices). So these cases get flagged by the MSPRC (lead contractor) for further review by Medicare policy specialists to identify (1) whether Medicare's right occurred before or after the petition is filed; and (2) what position, if any, Medicare will take.

From the trustee's perspective, because Medicare is not a general, unsecured creditor, and has priority claims status, in some cases, the Medicare reimbursement portion is not even sent to the bankruptcy estate.

Our team has a classification protocol to identify and address these issues, following a bankruptcy coordination methodology that has worked in both mass tort and single event cases. We would be happy to assist as you deem proper, and upon request by your client.

Kati Payne