Federal Court Cuts Down Aetna: Rules “Aetna’s Cross-Plan Offsetting Violates ERISA”

Federal Court Cuts Down Aetna: Rules “Aetna’s Cross-Plan Offsetting Violates ERISA”

On June 21, 2021, in an unpublished decision, the United States District Court for the District of NJ rules “Aetna’s Cross-Plan Offsetting Is Unlawful.” Court also concludes Aetna’s state-law-based justifications for its cross-plan offsetting are preempted by ERISA.

This watershed case is the culmination of many cases we have written about over the years, in regards to “Cross-Plan Offsets”. United States District Judge, Brian R. Martinotti, put the final nail in the coffin with respect to the health insurance industry practice of cross plan offsetting with his extraordinary ruling:

“Aetna’s Cross Plan Offsetting violates ERISA”

Cross-plan offsetting is a method insurers use to pull back alleged overpayments related to patients from one plan by reducing or eliminating payments related to patients from a different self-insured plan. Alleged overpayment recoupments and offsets (post payment adverse benefit determinations) are the nation’s No.1 medical claim denial, as insurers and TPA’s increasingly use post-payment audits as a means to recover what they allege to be prior overpayments of health care benefits, particularly when other self-insured health plan assets are involved. According to industry estimates and court records from a different case, national insurance carriers collect Billion$$ a year in offset activity.

As we have written about before, the No. 1 health care claims denial in the country is “overpayment” recoupments through “Cross-Plan Offsets”; in the same way,

The No.1 hidden cost for Self-Insured health plans, is “Overpayment” recoupment through “Cross-Plan Offsets” and subsequent embezzlement of plan assets. 

Accordingly, all self-insured health plans nationwide should look to recover Billion$$ in refunds from the past decade of successful plan assets TPA/ASO anti-fraud recoupments and managed care savings in the private sector.

“It can be argued that the failure to safeguard plan assets is definitely a breach of fiduciary duty, under ERISA, and now the courts have provided a legal formula for plan assets recovery” says Mark Flores, Vice President of Avym Corp. and national healthcare claims expert.

As the DOL ramps up audits and enforcement actions against health plan claims and appeals, every ERISA self-insured health plan sponsor or fiduciary should keep in mind that they are required to monitor TPA/ASOs successful overpayment recoveries and managed care savings, in order to determine whether:

  • any of the billions of dollars of successful TPA/ASO overpayment recoupments and offsets nationwide each year are ERISA plan assets;
  • all TPA/ASOs must refund all ERISA plan assets as ERISA prohibits all self-dealings;
  • all self-insured plan administrators are liable for fiduciary breach in failing to safeguard or recover plan assets.

Case Info: Lutz Surgical Partners, PLLC, et al. vs Aetna, Inc., et al., Case No.: 3:15-cv-02595, (BRM) (TJB) Document #: 202, Filed: 06/21/21, in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

This landmark case, in conjunction with the relevant US Supreme Court Montanile decision, potentially rewards trillions of dollars in plan assets recovery for all self-insured ERISA plans nationwide, from cross plan overpayment recoupments and offsets done by plan TPAs. 

Aetna Conducted Cross-Plan Offsetting

Cross-plan offsetting refers to “the practice of not paying a benefit due under one plan in order to recover an amount believed to be owed to another plan because of that other plan’s overpayment.”

According to the court records, “A typical cross-plan offsetting proceeds as follows. “[O]ut-of-network providers . . . provided services to . . . a patient who was insured under a Plan A administered by” a plan administrator…The “providers submitted claims to” the plan administrator and “received payment for those claims from the Plan A.”…The providers “were later informed by [the plan administrator] that they had been paid too much,” but the providers “refused to return the alleged overpayment.”…The plan administrator “responded by recouping the disputed overpayment through cross-plan offsetting.”…“In other words, when [the plan administrator] learned that [the providers] had submitted a subsequent claim regarding . . . a different patient who was insured under . . . a Plan B,” the plan administrator “did not pay for those claims by transferring money to” the providers….“Instead, [the plan administrator] purported to pay for those claims by cancelling debt that [the providers] allegedly owed to the Plan A.”

Aetna’s Cross-Plan Offsetting Is Unlawful

According to the decision, “Finally, even if Plan A, Plan B, the PGA, and the NRA permit cross-plan offsetting, they cannot circumvent ERISA requirements. Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer, 573 U.S. 409, 422 (2014)) (quoting Cent. States, Se. & Sw. Areas Pension Fund, 472 U.S. 559, 568 (1985)) (“[T]rust documents cannot excuse trustees from their duties under ERISA.”); see also In re SunTrust Banks, Inc. ERISA Litig., 749 F. Supp. 2d 1365, 1374 n.11 (N.D. Ga. 2010) (quoting Kuper v. Iovenko, 66 F.3d 1447, 1457 (6th Cir. 1995)) (“[A] fiduciary may only follow plan terms to the extent that the terms are consistent with ERISA.”); Williams v. Rohm & Haas Pension Plan, 497 F.3d 710, 714 (7th Cir. 2007) (“The [p]lan cannot avoid that which is dictated by the terms of ERISA.”); La Barbera v. J.D. Collyer Equip. Corp., 337 F.3d 132, 136 (2d Cir. 2003) (“ERISA of course trumps the collective bargaining and [t]rust agreements in the case of a conflict.”). In conclusion, Aetna’s cross-plan offsetting is prohibited by ERISA.”

ERISA Overrides Aetna’s State Law Justifications for its Cross-Plan Offsetting

The court also ruled that ERISA overrides Aetna’s state law justifications for its cross-plan offsetting. According to the court records, Aetna’s state law counterclaims were also pre-empted by ERISA. Aetna requested a motion to set-off, which allows entities that owe each other money to apply their mutual debts against each other. However the court denied Aetna’s request reasoning “Aetna has not yet established the existence of mutual debts between the parties, which precludes granting a motion to setoff at this stage.”

Finally, the court declined Aetna’s request to construe Aetna’s counterclaims as ERISA claims, reasoning, “Although legal claims can be pled in the alternative, a party cannot use summary judgment briefing as a way to inject new legal theories into a case…Here, Aetna’s proposal to recast its state law counterclaims as ERISA ones is essentially a request to introduce new legal theories or claims, which is improper at this stage.”

Over the past decade, Avym has closely followed decisions from the Supreme Court as well as federal appeals courts on ERISA prohibited self-dealing against ERISA plan TPA’s for managed care savings. These new ERISA embezzlement cases are just the initial impact of 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.

This monitoring should be done 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.

Avym Corp. has been at the forefront and 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 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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