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.

Federal Appeals Court Sides with Out-Of-Network Doctors Against UnitedHealth

On January 15, 2019, in what turned out to be a belated Christmas gift for patients, out-of-network medical providers and self-insured health plans, the 8th Circuit Federal Appeals Court stood with out-of-network medical providers, ruling they have standing to sue opposing UnitedHealth’s “cross-plan offsets”- by affirming the district court and opining:

Because United’s interpretation of the plan documents is not reasonable, we affirm the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment to the plaintiffs.”

This bellwether appellate court decision undisputedly strikes a death blow to the collective, industry standard, practice of “cross-plan offsetting” and has national implications for patients, medical providers and self-insured health plans.  As we have written about before, the No. 1 health care claims denial in the country is “overpayment” recoupments through “Cross-Plan Offsets”; correspondingly, the No.1 hidden cost for Self-Insured health plans, is “Overpayment” recoupment through “Cross-Plan Offsets” and subsequent embezzlement of plan assets as UnitedHealth Group continues to see record revenues and earnings year after year.

With the new legal guidance this landmark case provides, self-insured plan sponsors, like AT&T and Gap Inc. may be held accountable for allowing United to engage in likely ERISA violations such as embezzlement, conversion, self-dealing and breach of fiduciary duty.

According to industry estimates, the total dollar amount at issue nationwide could be as high as 1/3 of total claim expenditures annually. Successful industry overpayment recoveries have reached into the trillions of dollars nationwide over the past decade and involve many large carriers as well as many of the nation’s biggest self-insured health plans such as Apple, JP Morgan Chase and Amazon.  Thus recoupment through offsetting, when used as an anti-fraud initiative, has become an increasingly popular source of revenue for many of the nation’s largest insurers. While there is a need for anti-fraud initiatives in healthcare today, it is critical that every health plan and claims administrator comply with all applicable federal laws, ERISA and PPACA claims regulations, as well as statutory fiduciary duties.

This 8th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, along with the recent Supreme Court decision in Montanile, should act as a wake-up call to all self-insured health plans for potential rewards in the trillions of dollars in plan assets recovery for all self-insured ERISA plans nationwide, from cross plan overpayment recoupments and offsets done by all plan TPAs.

Insurers and Health Plans must comply with all applicable federal laws, ERISA and PPACA claims regulations, as well as statutory fiduciary duties before recouping one single dollar.

In affirming the district court’s ruling, the 8th Circuit rejected United’s argument that Dr Peterson lacked authority to sue as an authorized representative of his patients.  The appellate court also affirmed the district court’s ruling regarding offsets, where all of the plan documents that United cited explicitly authorized same-plan offsetting; and not one of those plans authorized cross-plan offsetting.

The appeals court further posited:

To adopt United’s argument that the plan language granting it broad authority to administer the plan is sufficient to authorize cross-plan offsetting would be akin to adopting a rule that anything not forbidden by the plan is permissible.”

According to court records, “United’s assertion that it has the authority to engage in cross-plan offsetting can hardly be called an interpretation because it has virtually no basis in the text of the plan documents.

The appeals court also maintained, that regardless of whether cross plan offsetting violates ERISA, it is at the very least, a questionable practice. Taking into consideration the fact that there is no plan language authorizing cross-plan offsetting, the appeals curt ultimately concluded that United’s interpretation is not reasonable.

As we have mentioned many times before, all ERISA health plans, medical providers and patients must educate themselves in order to understand the facts of these cases. Health plans must be proactive in ensuring benefits are adjudicated and ultimately paid solely based on the interest of participants and beneficiaries and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits and paying plan expenses. Medical providers must be also proactive and adopt compliant practices and policies. Patients must understand their benefits plans and their rights as allowed under ERISA.

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.