4th Cir. Resurrects Case against Aetna for Using “Dummy” Codes to “Bury” Fees

4th Cir. Resurrects Case against Aetna for Using “Dummy” Codes to “Bury” Fees

Class Action alleging that a “Dummy Code” is used to “Bury” fees may result in BURIED TREA$URE for Self-insured employer sponsored group health plan clients of Aetna & OptumHealth.

On June 22, 2021, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a ruling for Aetna and OptumHealth Care Solutions, resuscitating a potential class-action lawsuit alleging that they agreed to use a “dummy code” to bury unbillable administrative fees as billable medical treatment.

This case should serve as an alarm to all Self-insured group health plans, particularly those that give their TPA or carrier authority to pay claims benefits on their behalf because the alleged outrageous behavior by Aetna and OptumHealth raise questions as to whether all their self-insured plan clients may have unknowingly overpaid for certain claims and thus be entitled to significant recovery of Plan Assets.

According to court records:

The record on summary judgment is sufficient to sustain a finding that Aetna circumvented the Plan terms by “burying” the administrative fee it owed Optum in the dummy CPT code claims process.

Allegedly, after treating a patient, the health care provider submitted its claim to Optum for the services rendered. Optum then added a “dummy” CPT code to the claim to reflect a bundled rate fee, consisting of Optum’s administrative fee and the cost of the health care provider’s services. Optum would then forward the bundled rate fee claim to Aetna for its approval. In turn, this bundled rate fee would be paid based on the Plan’s responsibility framework.

In other words, Aetna and Optum allegedly colluded to hide administration fees by disguising them as Medical Service fees.

The court laid the groundwork for employer plan sponsors by opining, “Peters therefore withstood summary judgment on her claims for surcharge, disgorgement, and declaratory and injunctive relief under § 502(a)(1) and (3),

and for her claims on behalf of the Plan for surcharge, disgorgement, and declaratory and injunctive relief—as well as possibly restitution—under § 502(a)(2).”

Case info: Sandra M. Peters v. Aetna Inc., et al Case No.19-2085, US District Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit

The court goes on to say, “A reasonable factfinder could conclude that such action contradicted the obligations Aetna had contracted to fulfill under the terms of the Plan and the MSA,  effectively changing the terms of both without formal amendment of either….[and] that Optum was acting as a party in interest engaged in prohibited transactions” 

The judge went on to determine that “a reasonable factfinder could conclude that Aetna breached its duties based on the following four actions regarding the EOBs: (1) referring to Optum, and not the actual health care provider, as the “provider” of the medical services; (2) using “dummy codes” that did not represent actual medical services; (3)  misrepresenting the “amount billed” as including Optum’s administrative fee; and (4) describing the Optum rate, which included its administrative fee, as the amount that the Plan and its participants…owed for their claim.”

For over a decade, Avym Corp. has advocated for ERISA plan assets audit and embezzlement recovery education and consulting. Now with this case and the Supreme Court’s guidance on ERISA anti-fraud protection, we are ready to assist all medical providers and self-insured plans recover billions of dollars on behalf of hard-working Americans. To find out more about Avym Corporation’s Fiduciary Overpayment Recovery Specialist (FOR) and Fiduciary Overpayment Recovery Contractor (FORC) programs click here.

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