Friday, September 3, 2010

TRICAREs' Recovery Policy (Continued)

I am concerned that signing the agreement to represent the government's interest may create a conflict of interest if there is a dispute as to the portion of a settlement that represents the government's recovery. There may be issues as to whether some bills are causally related to the claim or whether the settlement was reduced because of the plaintiff's comparative negligence, etc. I would prefer to keep the government from intervening and would be willing to sign some acknowledgement of the government's interest but I am not comfortable signing their agreement to represent.

Florida Attorney

Signing the agreement means that the govt's claims will be addressed as part of the process. For example, if an attorney files suit, and then contacts TRICARE representatives, signing the agreement means the attorney would need to amend the complaint to include the govt's claim under 42 USC Sections 2651-53.

Further, depending on which version your state adopted, you are likely held to the same standards under ABA Model Rule 1.15(d), in which if you receive settlement proceeds and are aware of a just and valid third party claim (in this case, Tricare), then you have a fiduciary duty to notify and pay that third party.

So your concerns about conflict are addressed in the Code of Professional Responsibility if you are holding settlement proceeds in your IOLTA account (or once you do). If you are not yet there in your negotiations because the settlement funds have not been delivered, then your concerns can be addressed by adding language in the agreement to represent that all you are doing is protecting the govt's interests, but not at the expense of your client.

The problem: the govt cannot hire counsel to protect its reimbursement rights. It has the right to intervene. So if you do not sign, JAG will likely take the necessary steps to intervene. And once that happens, there will be no offset to TRICARE's reimbursement claim for attorney fees or expenses. It will be every party for itself. For that reason, we have recommended attorneys add the language they feel comfortable adding, send it back as a modified agreement, and then work out the details. To date, we have not had a denial of modified agreements, but that is also because we helped prep the Tricare representatives so they knew about the changes and were comfortable with them from a recovery standpoint.

Hope this helps.

My best,
Matt Garretson