Can you take an attorney fee off of a Workers' Compensation Medicare Set-Aside? The injured worker settled his Workers' Compensation case in 2005 with open medical benefits. There is a WCMSA for $35,000 that Medicare has approved. Can we take 20% of that as a fee?
Great question and one that is commonly asked by those of us that would like to be paid for the work we do. Before addressing your specific question, let me note that the MSA figure is a subset of the gross settlement amount, and attorneys are entitled to take their fee based on the gross settlement amount (depending on the terms of their retainer agreement, of course).
Now, specifically addressing whether you are entitled to take a fee from the MSA approved amount itself, we can look to the CMS Policy Memoranda for guidance. In the CMS Policy Memorandum dated May 7, 2004, sent to all Associate Regional Administrators, CMS addresses the question of administrative fees and attorney costs specifically associated with establishing Medicare set-aside arrangements. This memo included CMS' new (and presently enacted) policy:
"Administrative fees/expenses for administration of the Medicare set-aside arrangement and/or attorney costs specifically associated with establishing the Medicare set-aside arrangement cannot be charged to the set-aside arrangement... For example, if the settling parties submit a MSA proposal to CMS that claims that the injured individual will need $50,000 worth of work-related medical expenses that would otherwise be reimbursable under Medicare and the settling parties claim that it will cost $10,000 in administrative and attorney fees in order to both administer and establish the MSA, then CMS will only evaluate/judge the reasonableness of the $50,000 figure.
CMS will not evaluate whether or not the $10,000 in administrative and attorney fees are reasonable nor will CMS permit the settling parties to add that $10,000 amount to the $50,000 MSA amount. Therefore, if CMS approves that proposal for a $50,000 MSA, the settling parties' $10,000 in administrative and attorney fees cannot be charged to or against the MSA of $50,000 because CMS considers those costs to be a separate issue for the settling parties to negotiate."
So, in summary, any money used to establish a MSA cannot be used to pay for the administrative costs nor the attorney fees required to establish or administer the MSA. Since the MSA is a subset of the gross recovery amount, the attorney is entitled to take a fee. However, those proceeds must come from another part of the recovery other than the MSA as the only appropriate use of MSA proceeds is to pay for future injury-related care that would otherwise be covered by Medicare.
Hope this helps,
John V. Cattie, Jr., Esq.