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7th Circuit Court of Appeals: Medical Provider Entitled to 3rd Party Fee Schedules; “Must Be a Beneficiary”

In a  Significant Ruling for All Plan Sponsors, Insurers and Medical Providers, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Sides With Medical Provider; Rules Plan Must Provide Third Party Repricing Documents & Methodologies Relied Upon by Plan to Determine “Usual, Reasonable and Customary Rates” and Medical Provider is Eligible for Statutory Damages; “Must be a Beneficiary”

The case is based on very common fact patterns where an out-of-network medical provider verified benefits for the patient of an ERISA governed plan, confirming benefits would be paid at the “usual, reasonable and customary rate”. Before performing services the patient assigned the provider rights under the plan to “pursue claims for benefits, statutory penalties, [and] breach of fiduciary duty ….” The provider then performed services expecting a certain level of reimbursement. When the Plan failed/refused to pay the expected amount, the medical provider appealed for, among other things, the SPD and documents, rate tables and methodologies used to support her payment.

After 6 months, the Plan responded that a third party vendor, data iSight, priced the claim and the provider should reach out to them to try and negotiate a higher amount. The provider decided she had exhausted the administrative remedy, under the premise that 6 months was “unreasonable” and sued for: Damages for Unpaid Benefits, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B); Breach of Fiduciary Duty, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3) and Statutory Penalties, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c)(1). The district court dismissed her complaint. However, the 7th Circuit court disagreed, holding that: “Dr. Griffin adequately alleged that she is eligible for additional benefits and statutory damages, we affirm the judgment only as to Count 2, vacate the judgment as to Counts 1 and 3, and remand Counts 1 and 3 for further proceedings.

Case info: W.A. Griffin v. TEAMCARE, Central States Health Plan 7th Cir., and TRUSTEES OF THE CENTRAL STATES Case No. 182374 US District Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit

On the first count, Damages for Unpaid Benefits, 29 U.S.C.§ 1132(a)(1)(B) the court held:

“Dr. Griffin challenges the district court’s ruling that she did not state a claim for unpaid benefits. She argues that she adequately plead that the plan covered the medical treatment she provided T.R. and that she did not need to cite in her complaint a plan provision establishing coverage at the amount she billed. We agree. “[P]laintiffs alleging claims under 29 U.S.C.§ 1132(a)(1)(B) for plan benefits need not necessarily identify the specific language of every plan provision at issue to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” Innova Hosp. San Antonio, Ltd. P’ship v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Ga, Inc., 892 F.3d 719, 729 (5th Cir. 2018).

The court goes on to explain, that the Plan’s argument, “Requiring that Dr. Griffin to allege provisions to support something that was undisputed, -the existence of coverage-was error.” The court further noted that because Dr. Griffin was paid “something“, it was plausible the services were covered. 

Additionally, the court reasoned that requiring Dr. Griffin to name a specific plan provision entitling her to higher reimbursement, was not necessary, since she clearly alleged she was not paid the usual, reasonable and customary amounts, consistent with section 1109 of the plan. According to the court:

To require her to be more specific is to turn notice pleading on its head. Indeed, as discussed later, Dr. Griffin did not have the information necessary to allege with more detail where the plan’s calculation of the usual and customary rate went astray.”

On count 3, Statutory Penalties, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c)(1), the court explains why Dr. Griffin could be entitled to statutory penalties :

“Finally, Dr. Griffin argues that as T.R.’s assignee, she is a beneficiary of the plan, eligible for statutory penalties based on Central States’s failure to provide the documents she requested within 30 days. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 1024(b)(4), 1132(c)(1). Central States takes the position, supported by one citation to a district-court decision, that an assignee does not step into a beneficiary’s shoes for the purpose of enforcing statutory penalties. See Elite Ctr. for Minimally Invasive Surgery, LLC v. Health Care Serv. Corp., 221 F. Supp. 3d 853, 860 (S.D. Tex. 2016). Thus, Central States concludes, it could not be liable for not timely providing documents to Dr. Griffin.

But in Neuma, Inc. v. AMP, Inc., we remanded to the district court for a determination of whether penalties should be awarded to an assignee under section 1132(c)(1), thus assuming that assignees could seek penalties. 259 F.3d 864, 878–79 (7th Cir. 2001). Central States’s position is inconsistent with our prior precedent and is contrary to the purposes of a plenary assignment of rights under the plan. ERISA defines “beneficiary” as “a person designated by a participant … who is or may become entitled to a benefit [under an employee benefit plan].” 29 U.S.C. § 1002(8). An assignee designated to receive benefits is considered a beneficiary and can sue for unpaid benefits under section 1132(a)(1)(B)—something the plan does not dispute. See Kennedy v. Conn. Gen. Life Ins. Co., 924 F.2d 698, 700 (7th Cir. 1991). Bringing that suit (or an administrative appeal) requires access to information about the plan and its payment calculations— here, how Central States determined the usual, reasonable, and customary rate. Mondry, 557 F.3d at 808; see also Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 118 (1989) (disclosure ensures that “the individual participant knows exactly where he stands with respect to the plan” (citing H.R.Rep. No. 93–533, p. 11 (1973), U.S.Code Cong. & Admin. News 1978, p. 4649)).

It follows that Dr. Griffin also must be a beneficiary able to sue when she is denied requested information.

Central States argued that even if Dr. Griffin is a beneficiary, she still did not state a claim for statutory damages because it sent her the summary plan description, and ERISA did not require it to provide either Data iSight’s fee schedules and rate tables or its contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield. The court shot down the Plans arguments regarding the disclosure of documents as  “meritless“, based on the fact the Plan ultimately provided Dr. Griffin the SPD, albeit 6 months late, and because the Plan readily admitted that it used Data iSight’s figures to calculate the payment which constituted, in part, the Plan’s “pricing methodology” and the basis for the payment. 

This case illustrates the importance of ERISA compliance and properly disclosing all relevant materials used to determine benefits payments. It is clear that Plan Administrators and Fiduciaries should respond to any appeals and document requests in accordance with section 104 (b) (2) and 104 (b) (4) of ERISA, and pursuant to the interpretation of “plan document” from DOL Advisory Opinions, 96-14A, which states:

it is the view of the Department of Labor that, for purposes of section 104 (b) (2) and 104 (b) (4), any document or instrument that specifies procedures, formulas, methodologies, or schedules to be applied in determining or calculating a participant’s or beneficiary’s benefit entitlement under an employee benefit plan would constitute an instrument under which the plan is established or operated, regardless of whether such information is contained in a document designated as the “plan document”. Accordingly, studies, schedules or similar documents that contain information and data, such as information and data relating to standard charges or calculating a participant’s or beneficiary’s benefit entitlements under an employee benefit plan would constitute “instrument under which the plan is… operated.

Plan Administrators, fiduciaries, TPAs and medical providers all should also look to the DOL for guidance on the matter, specifically, DOL FAQs About The Benefit Claims Procedure Regulation:

FAQ B-5: For purposes of furnishing relevant documents to a claimant, what kind of disclosure is required to demonstrate compliance with the administrative processes and safeguards required to ensure and verify appropriately consistent decision making in making the benefit determination?

What documents will be required to be disclosed will depend on the particular processes and safeguards that a plan has established and maintains to ensure and verify appropriately consistent decision making. See 65 FR at 70252… the department anticipates that claimants who request this disclosure will be provided with what the plan actually used, in the case of the specific claim denial, to satisfy this requirement. The plan could, for example, provide the specific plan rules or guidelines governing the application of specific protocols, criteria, rate tables, fee schedules, etc. to claims like the claim at issue, or the specific checklist or cross-checking document that served to affirm that the plan rules or guidelines were appropriately applied to the claimant’s claim.

For nearly a decade, Avym Corp. has advocated for ERISA plan assets audit and embezzlement recovery education and consulting. Now with 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.

Aetna Slammed With $25.5M Verdict For Improper Claim Denials, Just Months After Medical Director Admits Never Reviewing Records

An Oklahoma jury slammed Aetna with a $25.5 Million verdict for improperly denying medical claims, awarding the family of the deceased patient $15.5 million in emotional distress and another $10 million in punitive damages. The verdict comes just months after an Aetna medical director admitted under oath, that he never actually looked at a patient’s medical records while at Aetna because it was Aetna’s protocol, and that he based his decision off “pertinent information” provided to him by a nurse.

The case details are very common and happen everyday across the nation: Patient pays for health insurance, patient gets sick and seeks treatment, insurer denies claim under the guise that services are deemed experimental or investigational. According to the family’s attorney, Doug Terry, “[this] case represents/exposes so much of what is wrong with health insurance,” Terry said.

“This case gave the jury a look behind the curtain so they could see what goes on at a health insurance company when they deny claims.  The evidence showed Aetna’s denial of her claim involved overworked, under-qualified doctors working in the interest of their employer’s bottom line who are compensated in part based on the profitability of the company.”

Court documents showed that evidence was presented to the jury, showing that Aetna’s doctors spent just minutes reviewing her case, despite the critical nature of her condition. Ultimately, Aetna’s  medical doctors denied the coverage, saying it was experimental and investigational, though clinical expert, Dr Andrew L. Chang, argued the treatment was not new, but a well established cancer treatment for decades, and had not only been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it but is also covered by Medicare.

Interestingly, Aetna considers the treatment appropriate for pediatric patients; and Medicare pays for the treatment in 65 year olds, which raises the question: “what is it about 22-year-olds to 64-year-olds that makes proton therapy experimental? There is no good answer for that; insurance companies call it that because they decided to deem it as such.” according to Dr. Chang.

According to multiple outlets, several jurors mentioned that they believed Aetna had “Rubber Stamped” the claim denials, based on the very limited time Aetna medical doctors spent actually reviewing the claim. Ultimately, the jury found that Aetna had “recklessly disregarded its duty to deal fairly and act in good faith with the Cunninghams.

Astonishingly, Aetna’s  attorney John Shely said in closing arguments that Aetna was proud of the three medical directors who denied coverage, even turning to thank them as they sat in the front row of the courtroom, according to jurors and other witnesses in court.

According to a CNN article, this decision represents the largest verdict in an individual claim denial insurance case in Oklahoma history, and could have major ramifications across the country for a form of cancer treatment called proton beam therapy.

The Case info: Ron Cunningham et al. v. Aetna Life Insurance Company, et al; Case number CJ-2015-2826 in the District Court of Oklahoma County, State of OK

For nealry a decade, Avym Corp. has advocated for ERISA plan assets audit and embezzlement recovery education and consulting. Now with 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.

Blue Cross Blue Shield IL Sued for Fraud, Robbing Chicago Taxpayers

Health Care Service Corp, dba Blue Cross Blue Shield IL, has been sued for fraud on behalf of the City of Chicago and its taxpayers, for inflating claim charges in order to skim taxpayer dollars.

As we have previously written, recent cases disputing “cross-plan offsetting” and improper cost containment activities have begun to see the light of day. While many of these cases involve private sector commercial health plans, the public sector is not immune to these questionable business practices. As more and more of these cases make their way through the courts, all self-insured health plan administrators, including public or municipal plans, charged with properly monitoring and safeguarding plan assets should do so, independent of their TPA’s own reporting. 

According to its website, Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company (HCSC) is the largest customer-owned health insurer in the United States and fourth largest overall, operating through health insurance Plans in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. The group benefits from its well-established market presence and leading overall market share in each of the five states in which it operates. With 8.1 million members, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) is the largest health insurance company in the state of Illinois. The insurer administers health plans for the City of Chicago employees.

The lawsuit was brought by Kathleen Harper, on behalf of the City of Chicago and its taxpayers, and alleges BCBSIL inflates medical provider charges then submits the inflated charges to the City of Chicago and keeps the difference between what it collects from the City’s reimbursement and what it actually pays to medical providers. According to the amended complaint, filed on October 9, 2018:

“These representations were not true or accurate. They were in an inflated amount and rather than reflecting the actual amount HCSC paid its providers…HCSC admits that the amount HCSC bills and receives from the governmental entities ostensibly as reimbursement for payments it has made to providers on behalf of these self-insured governmental entities is substantially less than it actually pays these providers.

The lawsuit also seeks unspecified damages and a  “full and complete accounting of said payments and receipts for the last ten years of any and all additional payments, ‘discounts’ or other sums HCSC has kept “for its own benefit” taken from the public funds taken by HCSC from one or more of the local government entities who have hired it to administer their self-insured health care plans


Other Blue Cross Blue Shield entities have faced similar problems before for this kind of activity. Recently, Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan was hit with a flurry of lawsuits, for skimming unauthorized fees, from their self insured health plan clients. The lawsuits, filed between Aug. 9 and 11 2017 in federal court in Michigan, accuse Blue Cross of charging hidden and unauthorized fees to the employers’ health plan assets as a means of improving its financial position without alienating customers. The lawsuits build from a 2014 appeals court decision where Blue Cross was found liable for this conduct under ERISA and upholding a $6 million judgment against the insurer.

Since that 2014 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, more than 200 ERISA cases have accused Blue Cross of charging hidden health plan fees. The employers suing Blue Cross include a car dealer, a plastics manufacturer, an auto parts maker, and a college, among others.

Other recent cases illustrate the pervasiveness of these questionable practices. In one particularly egregious case, the Department of Labor sued TPA Magnacare, allegedly for charging fees that were not disclosed to its ERISA plan clients. According to court records, the plans paid MagnaCare the “full amount, yet MagnaCare remitted the lower charges to the providers and retained the undisclosed markup” 


In this case, the complaint alleges the business model being used by BCBSIL for the City of Chicago benefit plan constitutes fraud:

“The misrepresentations described above as well as this scheme itself, one that HCSC has admitted in public is its “business model” and allowing it to profit from this scheme constitutes fraud under the Common Law of the State of Illinois”

Astonishingly, the complaint alleges that BCBSIL intentionally prohibits the City of Chicago or any of its taxpayers from seeing how much BCBSIL actually pays itself in fees or how much it contracts with providers:

“HCSC takes compensation for its services as the Third-Party Administrator under its contractual agreements with the City in an amount that is not disclosed in amount or in detail to the citizens of Chicago or to other members of the public. The amount HCSC takes for its services is also not limited to any amount on the face of its contract or available for the public in any manner whatsoever…HCSC does not disclose to the governmental entities or to the public that bears the ultimate burden of payments made by those entities the terms of these separate contracts with its providers, asserting before the Courts of Illinois that these contracts are private, privileged from disclosure or otherwise will not be made available for review by these local government entities or their taxpayers.

The lawsuit also alleges that the City of Chicago has been aware of the practice since 1985 but has not acted to correct or change the practice. The City of Chicago is not named in the suit.

Court case info: Harper, Kathleen v. Health Care Service Corp dba Blue Cross Blue Shield IL;Case No. 2018-L-010842; Filed on 10/09/2018 in the Circuit Court of Cook County Illinois.


It’s a well-known fact from federal court documents and in healthcare industry news reports, that Billion$ of ERISA plan claims payments from self-insured plans may have been recouped or offset by self-insured plan TPA’s for the TPA’s fully-insured accounts. Additionally, many Billion$ more may have been similarly siphoned off based on “Fake PPO” discounts or  Phantom “Savings” fees. In the healthcare provider arena the No. 1 health care claim denial in the country today is the overpayment recoupment and claims-offset.  Correspondingly, for self-insured health plans, the No. 1 hidden cost is overpayment recoupment and plan assets embezzlement. 

As we have written about before, this practice of keeping the difference between amounts actually paid to the medical provider and the amounts that are removed from Plan trusts accounts, are estimated to be between 30% to 60% of all Plan claims expenditures. Simultaneously, as a result of this and other cases, including the Supreme Court’s decision to deny the BCBSM challenge of the Sixth Circuit Court decision, these same self-insured health plan administrators nationwide, should seek return of Billions in plan assets as a result of the TPA industry’s potential recovery of a billion dollars in overpayment recoupments and anti-fraud campaigns over the past 12 years.

Avym Corp. has advocated for ERISA plan assets audit and embezzlement recovery education and consulting. With new Supreme Court guidance on ERISA anti-fraud protection, we are ready to assist all self-insured plans recover billions of dollars of self-insured plan assets, 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 contact us.

New Jersey State Looking for Answers in Health Plan Administration

Originally Published by By ROI-NJ, Anjalee Khemlani
Trenton | Apr 30, 2018 at 6:55 am : https://www.roi-nj.com/2018/04/30/healthcare/sarlo-in-letter-to-muoio-asks-n-j-to-look-into-details-of-health-insurance-contracts/

Budget and appropriations chair has questions about reimbursements, audits. State Sen. Paul Sarlo has asked Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio about the state heath plans’ third-party administrators. Reining In health care costs continues to be a challenge for many corporations and self-funded plans.

The story Isn’t any different for the state of New Jersey, the largest employer In the state. State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) is trying to find new solutions – and potentially hundreds
of millions of dollars In savings for the state – by addressing the Issue In a different way: Paying closer attention to how the state pays its contracted plan managers.

Last week, in a letter to state Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio, Sarlo asked the Department of the Treasury to determine if the health insurers are keeping any recovered funds, through savings from appeals, and if the plans are charging the state anything additional to what they pay the providers. 

Sarlo Letter to NJ Treasurer re TPA & Response

Sarlo also asked about surcharges related to out-of-state visits by plan members, and whether or not the state can cap those. 

In addition, he asked if the state is auditing Aetna and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the third-party administrators of the State Health Benefits Plan and School Employers’ Benefits Plan, which together cover more than 600,000 current and retired state employees and cost the state $6 billion in 2016 alone. 

The contract for both is set to expire in June, and a request for proposals with the same rules and requirements as the existing contract is currently out for bid. 

And, while the RFP adds to the timeliness of Sarlo’s request, it was not necessarily the impetus. 

Legislators began looking into the process in January after a New Jersey doctor, Rajnik “Raj” Raab, alerted them to a white paper he paid a California-based health care reimbursement recovery firm, AVYM, to produce. 

In the six-page white paper, the firm said New Jersey could save up to $1 billion annually: AVYM Transparency and Disclosure in Health Care Insurance

AVYM said such huge savings are possible because third-party administrators may not be paying back the state any savings they receive over time from claim appeals. 

Sarlo, the deputy majority leader who serves as the chair of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, told ROI-NJ how such a scenario could play out. 

“Here’s what we think happens,” he said. “A public worker in town XYZ cuts his hand, severs his hand, it’s a serious accident. He incurs $50,000 worth of bills. He petitions the fund representing the town … we pay. Now they (insurers) scrutinize and, over time, after arguing back and forth, reduce it to only $40,000.” And, if the reduced amount comes after the $50,000 has already been paid to the insurers, there is no way to check or prove the extra $10,000 is returned the state. Sarlo said there is no evidence that the state has ever received a refund from the insurers. 

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The contract between the state of New Jersey and Aetna and Horizon, which ROI-NJ obtained through an Open Public Records Act request, shows that the practice in question is prohibited, and that the state can audit the payments at any time. 

Representatives from Horizon and Aetna declined or did not return requests for comment on the issue, pointing instead to the agreements they have with the state.  

The contract with the insurers addresses potential overpayments. 

According to the contract, the state only reimburses the insurer after the payment is made.  

“The (insurer) will be reimbursed for claim checks and electronic fund transfers to providers that have cleared the (insurer’s) bank account by the (insurer) transmitting the total amount cleared via electronic mail or facsimile machine to the Commission by 11:00 a.m., EST daily, to determine the total amount that will be funded by wire transfer to the (insurer)’s designated bank on the same day. The transmission must include a breakdown between state and local amounts,” according to the contract. 

The contract also has a provision about any overpayments or refunds: 

“(Insurer) must disclose, fully account for, and remit, to the Commission any and all funds received by it as the result of a recovery of an overpayment or incorrect payment, prescription drug rebates and other pharmaceutical revenues, or subrogation of a claim or lien. Any discounted or negotiated rates or payment arrangements, any price adjustment, or refunds, and any retroactive or supplemental payments or credits negotiated with regard to covered services received by SHBP members must be remitted to the Commission. (Administrative) fees must take into consideration this provision,” according to the contract. 

And, if the state believes there is a problem with the payments, it can audit at any time. 

“(Insurers) must cooperate in the administration of routine audits performed by the Commission or its designee, on various aspects of the administration of the Plan, including but not limited to claims processing, medical management and enrollment data.  The various audits are designed to ensure (1) contract compliance, (2) that the interface system is working properly, (3) proper payment of claims where the individual should have coverage or (4) proper rejection of claims where the individual’s coverage has terminated, and (5) correct allocation of claims according to SHBP experience groups and (6) efficient and effective medical management,” the contract said. 

“An audit may be conducted if the Commission has a reasonable and good faith belief that a situation exists that will result in harm to the Plan. Audits must encompass records held by any subcontractor or related organization and held by any entity that is a member of the contractor group of companies.” 

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AVYM co-founders Mark Flores and Vincent Flores told ROI-NJ that the organization specializes in helping providers navigate claims and has seen a number of questionable practices since its inception in 1999. 

The white paper looked at claims from a Sparta school employee’s surgery and suggested that the provider was only paid 50 percent of the amount originally claimed, and the remainder was pocketed by the insurer. 

“Based on court cases (cited in the paper), it seems apparent TPAs can and do hide ‘undisclosed’ administrative compensation fees within medical claims payments. These undisclosed fees, which can account for 30 to 60 percent of a plan sponsor’s health claims expenditures, are usually siphoned into the TPA variance account through ‘retention reallocations’ and ‘cross plan overpayment’ offsets, among other techniques. Based on industry estimates and national claims processing standards, we believe the New Jersey State Health Benefits Plan and the School Employees’ Health Benefits Plan can realize a $1 billion (per) year reduction in expenditures by rigorous monitoring of TPA practices,” the AVYM report said. 

Mark Flores said that the actions of the TPA occur in a black box and are not visible to the state. “The big issue is that there’s no way to confirm whether or not the doctor is receiving the amount the (state) is paying the TPA for the claim,” he said. And that could save the state at least 30 percent of its current medical claims expenditures. 

Sarlo said one of the reasons he is pursuing the matter is the insurers’ response to transparency legislation. 

“When I had in my bill, when I had transparency disclosure to follow the money on these claims, which include TPAs out to providers, they opposed that bill,” Sarlo said. “Aetna, Horizon and all the health insurers opposed that bill.” 

Sarlo hopes the answers from Muoio will result in, at the very least, changing language for the new contract with the insurers. 

“Greater transparency on the operations of these third-party administrators will help identify cost savings that should be passed on to the state,” Sarlo said in a statement accompanying the letter. “There needs to be an accounting of the savings that insurance companies retain as fees and commissions.  

“We must ensure that the majority of these savings flow to the state as they should. Every year, doctors and other health care providers complain of decreasing reimbursements. At the same time, health care consumers complain of rising premiums and increasing costs. The obvious question that needs to be asked is: Where is all the money going?” 

Sarlo told ROI-NJ he realizes the answer won’t be a cure-all for the state, but it’s one worth getting. 

“I’m not saying this is going to save the budget at the end of the day,” he said. “But it’s worth a look. 

“This is serious dollars. The state of New Jersey is paying $37,000 per employee. If we can find savings in those health care plans, we must do it.” 

 

Aetna Medical Director Admits Under Oath He Never Reviewed Medical Records

California’s insurance commissioner has launched an investigation into Aetna after learning a former medical director for the insurer admitted under oath he never looked at patients’ records when deciding whether to approve or deny care.

Original story Story by Wayne Drash, on CNN

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones expressed outrage after CNN showed him a transcript of the testimony and said his office is looking into how widespread the practice is within Aetna. “If the health insurer is making decisions to deny coverage without a physician actually ever reviewing medical records, that’s of significant concern to me as insurance commissioner in California — and potentially a violation of law,” he said.

Aetna, the nation’s third-largest insurance provider with 23.1 million customers, told CNN it looked forward to “explaining our clinical review process” to the commissioner.

The California probe centers on a deposition by Dr. Jay Ken Iinuma, who served as medical director for Aetna for Southern California from March 2012 to February 2015, according to the insurer. During the deposition, the doctor said he was following Aetna’s training, in which nurses reviewed records and made recommendations to him.

Jones said his expectation would be “that physicians would be reviewing treatment authorization requests,” and that it’s troubling that “during the entire course of time he was employed at Aetna, he never once looked at patients’ medical records himself.”

“It’s hard to imagine that in that entire course in time, there weren’t any cases in which a decision about the denial of coverage ought to have been made by someone trained as a physician, as opposed to some other licensed professional,” Jones told CNN.

Members of the medical community expressed similar shock, saying Iinuma’s deposition leads to questions about Aetna’s practices across the country.

“Oh my God. Are you serious? That is incredible,” said Dr. Anne-Marie Irani when told of the medical director’s testimony. Irani is a professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU and a former member of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology’s board of directors.

“This is potentially a huge, huge story and quite frankly may reshape how insurance functions,” said Dr. Andrew Murphy, who, like Irani, is a renowned fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. He recently served on the academy’s board of directors.

The deposition by Aetna’s former medical director came as part of a lawsuit filed against Aetna by a college student who suffers from a rare immune disorder. The case is expected to go to trial later this week in California Superior Court.

The Gillen Washington Case

Gillen Washington, 23, is suing Aetna for breach of contract and bad faith, saying he was denied coverage for an infusion of intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) when he was 19. His suit alleges Aetna’s “reckless withholding of benefits almost killed him.”

Aetna has rejected the allegations, saying Washington failed to comply with their requests for blood work. Washington, who was diagnosed with common variable immunodeficiency, or CVID, in high school, became a new Aetna patient in January 2014 after being insured by Kaiser.

During his videotaped deposition in October 2016, Iinuma — who signed the pre-authorization denial — said he never read Washington’s medical records and knew next to nothing about his disorder.

Questioned about Washington’s condition, Iinuma said he wasn’t sure what the drug of choice would be for people who suffer from his condition.

Iinuma further says he’s not sure what the symptoms are for the disorder or what might happen if treatment is suddenly stopped for a patient. “Do I know what happens?” the doctor said. “Again, I’m not sure. … I don’t treat it.”

Iinuma said he never looked at a patient’s medical records while at Aetna. He says that was Aetna protocol and that he based his decision off “pertinent information” provided to him by a nurse.

“Did you ever look at medical records?” Scott Glovsky, Washington’s attorney, asked Iinuma in the deposition.

“No, I did not,” the doctor says, shaking his head.

“So as part of your custom and practice in making decisions, you would rely on what the nurse had prepared for you?” Glovsky asks.

“Correct.”

Iinuma said nearly all of his work was conducted online. Once in a while, he said, he might place a phone call to the nurse for more details.

How many times might he call a nurse over the course of a month?

“Zero to one,” he said.

Glovsky told CNN he had “never heard such explosive testimony in two decades of deposing insurance company review doctors.”

Jones, the California insurance commissioner, said he couldn’t comment specifically on Washington’s case, but what drew his interest was the medical director’s admission of not looking at patients’ medical records.

“What I’m responding to is the portion of his deposition transcript in which he said as the medical director, he wasn’t actually reviewing medical records,” Jones told CNN.

He said his investigation will review every individual denial of coverage or pre-authorization during the medical director’s tenure to determine “whether it was appropriate or not for that decision to be made by someone other than a physician.”

If the probe determines that violations occurred, he said, California insurance code sets monetary penalties for each individual violation.

‘A huge admission’

Dr. Arthur Caplan, founding director of the division of medical ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center, described Iinuma’s testimony as “a huge admission of fundamental immorality.”

“People desperate for care expect at least a fair review by the payer. This reeks of indifference to patients,” Caplan said, adding the testimony shows there “needs to be more transparency and accountability” from private, for-profit insurers in making these decisions.

Murphy, the former American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology board member, said he was “shocked” and “flabbergasted” by the medical director’s admission.

“This is something that all of us have long suspected, but to actually have an Aetna medical director admit he hasn’t even looked at medical records, that’s not good,” said Murphy, who runs an allergy and immunology practice west of Philadelphia.

“If he has not looked at medical records or engaged the prescribing physician in a conversation — and decisions were made without that input — then yeah, you’d have to question every single case he reviewed.” 

Murphy said when he and other doctors seek a much-needed treatment for a patient, they expect the medical director of an insurance company to have considered every possible factor when deciding on the best option for care.

“We run into the prior authorization issues when we are renewing therapy, when the patient’s insurance changes or when an insurance company changes requirements,” he said. “Dealing with these denials is very time consuming. A great deal of nursing time is spent filling and refilling out paperwork trying to get the patient treatment.

“If that does not work, then physicians need to get involved and demand medical director involvement, which may or may not occur in a timely fashion — or sometimes not at all,” he said. “It’s very frustrating.”

Click HERE to see the original story 

For nealry a decade, Avym Corp. has advocated for ERISA plan assets audit and embezzlement recovery education and consulting. Now with 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.

US Department of Labor Gives Kiss of Death to MEWA Fiduciaries in “Healthcare Madoff” Scheme

In Unprecedented Move, DOL Exercises Authority to Issue Cease and Desist Order Under Section 521 of ERISA, Shut Down Fiduciaries Accused of Misconduct, “Healthcare Madoff” Scheme

The U.S. Department of Labor obtained a Temporary Restraining Order in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois against Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangement (MEWA) service providers for allegedly failing to pay more than $26 million in member’s health bills while keeping a substantial amount of money for themselves, then siphoning off those funds to offshore Bermuda accounts. The court also ordered 2 banks to freeze 14 bank accounts that were alleged to have plan assets in them.

The court ordered Black Wolf Consulting, AEU Holdings and one of its subsidiaries removed and barred from serving as fiduciaries or service providers to the individual employer plans that participate in the AEU Holdings LLC Employee Benefit Plan, a Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangement (MEWA) established by the defendants.

The court’s order immediately appointed an independent fiduciary to oversee the MEWA’s operations, marshal and control the assets of the MEWA as it relates to the underlying participant plans, perform an accounting of the MEWA’s financial position, and determine the MEWA’s ability to pay outstanding participant health claims, according to the DOL.

The order comes on the heels of the DOL lawsuit filed on November 2, 2017 seeking declaratory and injunctive relief including a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to remove the fiduciaries. The Complaint also alleges multiple violations of ERISA including, using plan assets to pay excessive fees and expenses, assessing undisclosed fees to the contribution amounts, failing or refusing to pay approximately $16 million for member’s medical claims, then transferring unpaid monies to offshore bank accounts in Bermuda.

Black Wolf kept anywhere from 17 to 44 percent of the money employers and employees paid toward premiums, according to the DOL complaint.

At its height, the MEWA covered approximately 14,000 participants and beneficiaries. These participants worked for more than 560 employers in 36 different states. However the increased backlog of unpaid claims created significant problems for many members as doctors refused treatments because of unpaid bills and many members were sent to collections accounts, according to the DOL.  

Additionally, the DOL issued a cease and desist order that prevents sub-brokers and aggregators working on behalf of the MEWA from marketing it to prospective employers or from enrolling new employers. The Secretary has the authority to issue an ex parte cease and desist order pursuant to ERISA § 521(a), 29 U.S.C. § 1151(a), and its implementing regulation, 29 C.F.R. § 2560.521-1. This authority applies only to a MEWA, and the cease and desist order may be issued whenever the Secretary finds reasonable cause to believe, among other things, that the respondent(s) engaged in conduct that creates an immediate danger to public safety or welfare within the meaning of § 2560.521-1(b)(3).  29 C.F.R. § 2560.521-1(c)(1)(i)(B).

According to the DOL Memorandum:

Over $15 million in processed claims from 2016 and over $11 million in processed claims for 2017 remain unpaid. During the same time period as these claims have gone unpaid, AEU and Black Wolf have enriched themselves substantially by paying themselves and other entities millions of dollars in “fees.” Meanwhile, hundreds of unsuspecting employers have joined the AEU Plan to provide affordable medical benefits for their employees, only to have their employees be saddled with thousands of dollars in unpaid medical claims-some facing escalating collections actions and others unable to obtain life-saving treatment.

The Memorandum goes on to point out:

This results in thousands of participants incurring additional medical claims that will never be paid. Current and former participants report being turned away by their doctors because claims have gone unpaid. They have had to forego life-saving treatments for cancer and other illnesses. Parents who have just given birth are saddled with unanticipated medical claims at the same time they are trying to care for their newborn children. Collections agencies are calling and knocking at their doors. Many fear for their family’s future financial security. Despite the over $26 million in current unpaid claims and the harm facing these participants, Defendants continue to seek out new, unsuspecting employers to feed what is to them, a very profitable enterprise.”

Original DOL Press Release

These new ERISA embezzlement cases are part of a growing trend consistent with the court’s Hi-Lex decisions and as well as other cases we have written about before.

This lawsuit in particular should serve as a warning and wake up call for all Plan Administrators to continually monitor their TPAs in accordance with the Plan Administrator’s statutory fiduciary duties and to discharge its duties with respect to a plan solely in the interest of the participants for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to them.

For over 7 years, Avym Corp. has advocated for ERISA plan assets audit and embezzlement recovery education and consulting. With new Supreme Court guidance on ERISA anti-fraud protection, we are ready to assist all self-insured plans recover billions of dollars of self-insured plan assets, 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.

Blue Cross Michigan Hit With Flurry of ERISA Lawsuits

Pension & Benefits Daily™ covers all major legislative, regulatory, legal, and industry developments in the area of employee benefits every business day, focusing on actions by Congress,…

By Jacklyn Wille

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has been sued more than 30 times in the past week by employers that say the insurer skimmed unauthorized fees from their health plans.

The lawsuits, filed between Aug. 9 and 11 in federal court in Michigan, accuse Blue Cross of charging hidden and unauthorized fees to the employers’ health plan assets as a means of improving its financial position without alienating customers. The lawsuits build from a 2014 appeals court decision holding Blue Cross liable for this conduct under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and upholding a $6 million judgment against the insurer.

Since that 2014 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, more than 200 ERISA cases have accused Blue Cross of charging hidden health plan fees. Two Michigan-based law firms are spearheading this recent flurry of lawsuits: Varnum LLP and Michigan Health Lawyers. The employers suing Blue Cross include a car dealer, a plastics manufacturer, an auto parts maker, and acollege, among others.

Bloomberg Law®, an integrated legal research and business intelligence solution, combines trusted news and analysis with cutting-edge technology to provide legal professionals tools to be proactive advisors.

This recent spate of lawsuits is partly in response to a deadline identified by a district court, Aaron Phelps, a partner with Varnum LLP in Grand Rapids, Mich., who filed several of the recent lawsuits, told Bloomberg BNA. That court held that lawsuits based on this purported scheme would be timely “until at least” Aug. 12 of this year, Phelps said.

Even so, Phelps said he didn’t believe the statute of limitations has expired on these claims. He said his firm, which has represented more than 200 businesses bringing claims against Blue Cross, would “continue to recover the fraudulent overcharges into the future.”

Blue Cross’ conduct affected “hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses,” Phelps added.

Blue Cross didn’t respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.

Many of these newer lawsuits claim to be “nearly identical” to the allegations found to be valid by the Sixth Circuit and other courts. Specifically, the insurer is accused of adopting a scheme to improve its financial position by adding surcharges to the fees it charged health plans. When these surcharges proved unpopular and caused the insurer to lose customers in the late 1980s, Blue Cross in 1993 replaced the disclosed fees with hidden markups no longer visible to customers, the lawsuits claim.

In allowing lawsuits to proceed against Blue Cross many years after the fees were issued and capable of being discovered, the Sixth Circuit said that the insurer’s acts of concealment warranted extending the relevant statute of limitations.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacklyn Wille in Washington atjwille@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer atjmeyer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Self-Insured Health Plan TPA MagnaCare to Return $14.5 Million for ERISA Violations

Third Party Administrator, MagnaCare to return $14.5 million to Health Plan Clients after getting sued in federal court, alleging “MagnaCare breached its fiduciary duties and committed prohibited transactions, including dealing with plan assets in its own interest.

In a case we have written about before and as part of a greater, ongoing slew of self-insured health plans suing their third party administrators, MagnaCare, agreed to return $14.5 million to its health plan clients, as part of a settlement agreement with the US Department of Labor (DOL) – with possible additional payments of $4.5 million based upon business volume through 2019.  This agreement comes on the heels of the DOL lawsuit, filed in 2016, alleging multiple violations of ERISA, including committing prohibited transactions and acting in its own interest with plan assets, among other violations.

According to the DOL and court records:

MagnaCare charged fees that were not disclosed to its ERISA plan clients…The plans paid MagnaCare the full amount, yet MagnaCare remitted the lower charges to the providers and retained the undisclosed markup

This case is just the tip of the national healthcare crisis iceberg. Recent reports have indicated most employers, particularly large employers will continue to offer health insurance as a benefit, in spite of the fact self-insured health plans are spending more on health benefits. Additionally, while self-insuring is common among large employers, an increasing number of smaller employers are self-insuring as well. Based on these facts, and with an increasing number of patients forced into bankruptcy due to unpaid medical bills, employer plans, medical providers and patients need to understand the implication of this case and others like it.

It’s a well-known fact from federal court documents and in healthcare industry news reports, that Billion$ of ERISA plan claims payments from self-insured plans may have been recouped or offset by self-insured plan TPA’s for the TPA’s fully-insured accounts. Additionally, many Billion$ more may have been similarly siphoned off based on “Fake PPO” discounts or  Phantom “Savings” fees.

DOL Case info and copy of “Complaint”: Acosta v. MagnaCare Administrative Services, LLC and MagnaCare LLC Civil Action No.:  1:16-cv-07695-DAB

Copy of “Consent Order”: United States DOL v. Magnacare Administrative Servcies, LLC and Magnacare, LLC-Consent Order

The court documents also contain allegations that MagnaCare actually siphoned off money that was supposed to go towards the payment for medical claims:

At times relevant to this Complaint, MagnaCare acted in own interest when it kept the difference between the Plan Charges and the Provider Rates as additional compensation without disclosing the amounts to the Plans.”

According to court records, MagnaCare LLC, and MagnaCare Administrative Services, LLC (MagnaCare) is a third party administrator of health plans or TPA, and provides administrative and claim adjudication services as well as “Network Access” services which purportedly enables its clients to obtain healthcare from providers at discounted rates.  

This case was undoubtedly spurred on by a previous lawsuit against MagnaCare, by its own self-insured plan client. In that case, the plaintiff alleged:

“MagnaCare represented to Plaintiffs in a written contract between the parties that providers of diagnostic laboratory and ancillary services had “accepted” a “fee schedule” which included a “management fee” for MagnaCare. In fact, the providers had never “accepted’ a fee schedule containing a “management foe” for MagnaCare. Rather, the providers had agreed to a fee schedule, which was a fraction of the amounts collected by MagnaCare from Plaintiffs. MagnaCare – without disclosure to Plaintiffs or the providers – simply misappropriated the difference between what Plaintiffs paid MagnaCare and what MagnaCare negotiated to pay the providers.” 

Court case info: UNITED TEAMSTER FUND, et al v. Magnacare Administrative Services, LLC et al, Case 1:13-CV-06062-WHP-FM, First Amended Complaint (FAC), filed on Oct. 29, 2015, original Complaint, filed on august 27, 2013,  in United States District Court Southern District Of New York.

These lawsuits come on the heels of the Oct. 20, 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision to deny all appeals on a BCBSM’s $6.1 million fraud judgment for a self-insured ERISA plan by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Six Circuit, upholding the decision by the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. On May 14, 2014, the federal appeals court (Sixth Cir. 2014) upheld the district court’s $6.1 million decision for Hi-Lexa self-insured ERISA plan, against BCBSM for violating ERISA in prohibited transactions and fiduciary fraud, according to court documents.

Hi-Lex Controls, Inc. v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan(SC Case #. 14-168, 6th Cir. Case #: 13-1773, 13-1859).

These cases together with the ERISA case listed below, offer insight into the healthcare industry’s prevalent overpayment offset wars:  

Peterson, D.C. et al v. UnitedHealth Group Inc. et al, U.S. District Court, U.S. District of Minnesota (DMN) CIVIL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 0:14-cv-02101-PJS-BRT

These new ERISA embezzlement cases are part of a growing trend consistent with the court’s Hi-Lex decisions.

This lawsuit in particular should serve as a warning and wake up call for all Plan Administrators to continually monitor their TPAs in accordance with the Plan Administrator’s statutory fiduciary duties and to discharge its duties with respect to a plan solely in the interest of the participants for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to them.

For over 7 years, Avym Corp. has advocated for ERISA plan assets audit and embezzlement recovery education and consulting. With new Supreme Court guidance on ERISA anti-fraud protection, we are ready to assist all self-insured plans recover billions of dollars of self-insured plan assets, 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.

 

Federal Judge Certifies Class Against ILWU-PMA Welfare Plan in Lawsuit Alleging ERISA Violations

**UPDATE**

On August 1, 2017 US District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald issued an order granting class certification against ILWU-PMA Welfare Plan and its third party administrator, Zenith American Solutions, for breach of fiduciary duty.

According to court records;

“Plaintiffs’ claims seeking removal of the Plan’s fiduciaries raise issues that apply generally to the class, and thus a class can be certified under Rule 23(b)(1).’

As part of his rationale for certifying class, the judge explained, “Because the underlying issue does not turn on the approval or denial of any given claim for benefits, but rather on Defendants’ course of conduct as a whole, the issues discussed above do not preclude class certification on the fiduciary claims.

ILWU-PMA and Zenith argued class should be denied because the plaintiffs failed to exhaust the administrative remedy, but the court disagreed, “Defendants contend that typicality and adequacy of representation are not met because Lead Plaintiffs have failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. But exhaustion is not required for claims alleging a breach of fiduciary duty. Spinedex Physical Therapy USA Inc. v. United Healthcare of Arizona, Inc., 770 F.3d1282, 1294 (9th Cir. 2014). Accordingly, exhaustion is no bar to certifying the class, and the requirements of Rule 23(a) are met.

ILWU-PMA and Zenith next argued class should be denied because the proposed class is not “cohesive” and therefore presents very little risk of “inconsistent judgments” going forward. However the court again disagreed, “The relief requested, however, would benefit all Plan members in the same way, and thus the class is sufficiently cohesive.”

“Moreover, the risk of inconsistent judgments is apparent from the face of the claim: If each of the four Lead Plaintiffs brought individual actions seeking removal of Zenith and the PMA Trustees in four separate courts, and half were granted the requested injunctive relief while the other half were not, the Plan would be required both to remove and not to remove Zenith and the PMA Trustees.

Ultimately, this ruling should serve as a wake-up call to all Plan Administrators and Fiduciaries, to ensure any and all TPAs are acting in the best interest of the members and their beneficiaries. Thus avoiding costly litigation and possible penalties.

In the case, which we have written about before, plaintiffs sued the International Longshore Workers Union-Pacific Maritime Association Welfare Plan, (ILWU-PMA) and its third party administrator, Zenith American Solutions (Zenith) for failing to properly administer and pay benefit entitlements to the employees of ILWU and their beneficiaries. The suit also named Pacific Maritime Association trustees, who manage the plan, individually, saying that they were not acting in the best interest of employees.

Case Info: Amijo et al v. ILWU-PMA Coastwise et al U.S. District Court for the Central District of CA (Western Division- Los Angeles) Civil Docket for Case #: 2:15-cv-1403, Filed 02/26/2015.

The original complaint alleged Zenith, and its agent TC3, failed to properly process member medical claims leading to many claims going unpaid, and members having to foot the medical bills out of pocket. According to the complaint: 

“the backlog of unpaid medical bills increased dramatically in early 2013. According to the Interim Report, by the summer of 2013, there were 286,000 unprocessed claims from the Cigna era, and there were also growing numbers of unprocessed claims from the Zenith era.’

After an arbitrators hearing, Zenith assured the ILWU employees their claims would be processed and paid in a timely manner, but that did not happen, and in fact the backlog grew even worse, according to court records,

“Although Zenith promised [it] would, put in place mechanisms to address the backlog of unpaid medical bills, in the latter half of 2013 the backlog became worse, with about 90,000 new claims each month.”

Ultimately, the members sued the plan in a class action, seeking benefits and the removal of the fiduciaries for failing to monitor administration of the Plan. The suit also alleged Zenith and the PMA Trustees’ breach of their fiduciary duty harmed the Plan as a whole by, among other things, causing doctors to stop providing services the the employees and their beneficiaries.

 

HHS OIG Work Plan 2017

OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL- U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services FY 2017-Work-Plan -The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG)
Work Plan for fiscal year (FY) 2017 summarizes new and ongoing reviews and activities that OIG plans to pursue with respect to HHS programs and operations during the current fiscal year and beyond

HHS OIG Work Plan 2017