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.

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.

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.

 

UHC “Overpayment” Offset Practice Dealt Deathblow-ERISA Court Rules Cross-Plan Offset Constitutes “Grave Conflict Of Interest”

In Landmark Class Action Case, a Federal Judge would shut down United HealthCare’s “cross-plan offsetting” practice as a “troubling use of plan assets”, ruling the industry standard practice of “Cross‐plan offsetting creates a substantial and ongoing conflict of interest” for all claims administrators who “simultaneously administer both self‐insured and fully insured plans.” The court also called into question United’s practice of reaching “into the pockets of the sponsors of self‐insured plans” and putting that money “in United’s pocket”.

In an extraordinary decision, US District Judge Patrick J. Schultz has effectively barred cross-plan offsets. The judge weighed in on two very important questions: First, whether UHC acted “reasonably” in interpreting its client’s plans to permit cross‐plan offsetting; and whether the practice complies with the “fiduciary duties imposed by ERISA”. The court offered an answer to both issues while providing very clear guidance for Plans, claims administrators, medical providers and patients.

As we have written about many times 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. With the new legal guidance this landmark case provides, will self-insured plan sponsors, like AT&T and Gap Inc. be held accountable to allowing United to engage in such ERISA violations such as embezzlement, self-dealing and breach of fiduciary duty?  

The court case info: Peterson DC 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, Filed 06/23/14

In this class-action, originally filed in 2014, healthcare providers alleged ERISA violations by UnitedHealthcare Group for withholding and offsetting newly adjudicated claim payments from one patient to satisfy an alleged overpayment in the past, from separate, unidentified patients in complete violation of ERISA, and even worse, by misrepresenting to the patients and the plan sponsors on patient EOB’s “payment made to provider”, when in truth and in fact no such payment was ever made to the providers, according to the Court Complaint.

In answering the first question, Judge Schultz considered whether the language in UHC’s client health plans at issue in the case, identified as 46 Plan Bs, authorized UHC to engage in the offsetting practice known as “Cross-Plan Offsets”. According to the court they did not: “the Court finds that United’s interpretation is unreasonable. The plans themselves do not authorize cross‐plan offsetting. To the contrary, most of the plans contain specific overpayment and recovery language that would be rendered meaningless if United was authorized by the generic clauses that it relies upon to engage in cross‐plan offsetting.”

The court went on to clarify: “Every one of the overpayment provisions is triggered only when the plan itself makes an overpayment…In other words, each Plan B authorizes the recovery of overpayments made by the Plan B.

“None of the overpayment…provisions contain any language allowing other plans to recover their overpayments from the plan. “In other words, not one Plan B authorizes recovery of an overpayment made by a Plan A.”, according to the court order.

Remarkably, the judge chided UHC for or creating its cross-plan offsetting process for its own benefit and without examining the language of the plans. The judge specifically drew attention to this point, according to the court order: “It should be noted, that in looking carefully at the language of the plans…the Court is doing something that United itself did not do before implementing cross-plan offsetting…”

“Only after getting sued did United hunt through the plans for any language that might provide a post hoc justification for its conduct…United admits that it was not able to find a single provision of a single plan that explicitly authorizes cross-plan offsetting.”, according to court records.

The judge also questioned whether UHC ever disclosed their intention to engage in “cross-plan offsets” or the likely conflict of interest to its plan clients: “It appears, however, that disclosures concerning United’s system of cross-plan offsetting are mostly or entirely handled by United’s banking team during what appear to be fairly technical explanations for banking, account-setup and account-funding processes. It also appears that such disclosures mostly occur orally and on a somewhat ad hoc basis”.

UHC argued that it did disclose its cross-plan offset provisions to its clients’ “benefits and finance and treasury folks”, to which the court responded “it is not clear whether those individuals have authority to make plan-wide fiduciary decisions, nor is it clear whether these disclosures are made before or after a plan sponsor decides to become a United Client.”

Regarding the second question, whether the practice of cross-plan offsetting violates ERISA, the judge, while weighing possible conflicts of interest in violation of ERISA, went so far as to mention the fact that UHC lined its own pockets with self-insured plan assets: “the money that reimburses United for its alleged overpayment comes out of the plan sponsors’ pockets. Several internal United documents emphasize this point and gush about how cross-plan offsetting will allow United to take money for itself out of the pockets of the self-insured plans…”

“In other words, every one of the cross‐plan offsets at issue in this litigation put money in United’s pocket, and most of that money came out of the pockets of the sponsors of self‐insured plans.” according to the court records.

The court went into great detail regarding UHC’s conflict and possible prohibited transaction and breach of fiduciary duty: “In light of this case law and the strict fiduciary duties imposed by ERISA, cross-plan offsetting is, to put it mildly, a troubling use of plan assets—one that is plainly in tension with “the substantive or procedural requirements of the ERISA statute . . . In stark terms, cross‐plan offsetting involves using assets from one plan to satisfy debt allegedly owed to a separate plan—a practice that raises obvious concerns under §§ 1104 and 1106. These concerns are particularly acute in this case, in which every offset that United orchestrated did not just benefit a different, unrelated plan, but benefited United itself.”

“Cross‐plan offsetting creates a substantial and ongoing conflict of interest for claims administrators who, like United, simultaneously administer both self‐insured and fully insured plans…”, according to court records.

The judge, after examining the facts of the case, shed light on an enormous incentive for UHC: “As the single biggest payor of claims, United’s personal stake in cross‐plan offsetting dwarfs that of any self‐insured plan. [United] in this circumstance has every incentive to be aggressive about looking for overpayments from its own fully insured plans (which overpayments can be recovered from self‐insured plans) and less aggressive about looking for overpayments from self‐insured plans (which overpayments might be recovered from fully insured plans).”

“And indeed, this incentive is reflected in United’s internal documents, which enthusiastically describe how cross‐plan offsetting will permit United to reach into the pockets of the sponsors of self‐insured plans to recover the overpayments that United makes in connection with fully insured plans.” (emphasis added) 

The court further clarifies its reasoning and confirms: “It is also undoubtedly true, as United is reluctant to acknowledge, that cross-pan offsetting can harm plan participants” and “It is not fairly debatable, however, that the type of cross‐plan offsetting challenged in this case—that is, cross-plan offsetting engaged in by an administrator who insures some (but not all) of the plans—presents a grave conflict of interest.”

Ultimately, the court concludes, “United labors under a continuing conflict of interest in administering the cross‐plan offset system because United fully insures some but not all of the plans. More importantly, the fact remains that cross‐plan offsetting is in tension with ERISA’s fiduciary rules, is not provided for in the plans, and is at odds with the specific offset language contained in most of the plans. As a result, United did not act reasonably in interpreting the Plan [documents] that are at issue in this case to permit cross‐plan offsetting. The Court therefore grants plaintiffs’ motions for partial summary judgment and denies United’s motions for full summary judgment.”

In ruling against UHC on almost every argument, the judge certified the case for immediate appeal, acknowledging that this was a landscape changing and “exceptional case,” and taking into consideration that United, as the nation’s largest insurer will have to “undertake the extremely expensive and disruptive process if unwinding its cross-plan offsetting practice.”

“This order resolves a controlling and dispositive question of law: whether United acted reasonably in interpreting the plans to permit cross‐plan offsetting.”

“IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:

  1. Defendants’ motions for summary judgment are DENIED.
  2. Plaintiffs’ motions for summary judgment on Phase I issues are GRANTED.”

Based on the fact that ‘cross-plan offsetting” is pervasive throughout the health care industry, this legal guidance will undoubtedly have tremendous ramifications on all Plans, TPAs, medical providers and patients. Medical providers must be proactive and adopt compliant practices and policies. Health plans must also be proactive in validating that plan assets get returned to their plan, and not applied to cover shortfalls in another plan.

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.

Boomerang Effect Part II-Federal Court “Bars” Cigna From Recouping Self-Insured Plan Assets

Boomerang comes back to hit Cigna

Another Federal Court Rules Against Cigna In Alleged Fee Forgiving/Overpayment Recoupment Dispute With Medical Provider- Court “Bars” Cigna From Relying On “Legally Incorrect” Interpretation of ERISA Plans

On March 10, 2017 in the US District Court of Connecticut, Judge Alfred V. Covello ruled in favor of surgical center defendants and against Cigna, barring Cigna from recouping self-insured plan assets based on alleged “overpayments” which were predicated on Cigna’s “legally incorrect” interpretation of ERISA plans “exclusionary language”.

This decision offers clear guidance on critical issues such as cross-plan offsetting, Cigna’s fee forgiveness protocol, SIU practices and ERISA disclosure requirements, confirming the profound shift in Out-of-Network benefits and claim processing for all health care providers and health plans in the nation.

The decision also further unwinds the payor initiated “out-of-network fraud” enigma as we have written about before, and is one of a series of critical court decisions which address the typical scenario for out-of-network providers: payors refusal to pay claims which leads to “catch-all” out-of-network lawsuits seeking total overpayment refunds of claims previously paid to providers, all based on broad and vague allegations of fraud.

The case revolves around Cigna’s fee forgiving protocol, whereby Cigna denies medical claims if its members don’t pay their entire out of pocket cost up front. Based on this premise, Cigna is also seeking recovery of approximately $17 million in alleged “overpayments” made to providers that did not collect the full patient out of pocket liability up front.

Court case info: Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. et al. v. True View Surgery Center One, LP et al. Case No.:3:14-cv-01859-AVC; US District Court Connecticut

In what may have been the impetus for a litigation tsunami, where over 100 Cigna administered health plans were sued for various ERISA violations including embezzlement, issuing “secret checks” and self-dealing, Cigna filed suit on 12/11/2014 against True View Surgery Center One and affiliated health care providers seeking declaratory and injunctive relief under ERISA and essentially asking the court to declare that “no coverage is due” where medical providers “do not enforce the plans’ cost-share requirements”. Cigna also asked the court to order defendant medical providers to “submit to Cigna only claims containing charges that Defendants actually charge the plan member as payment in full”. In other words, no medical coverage is available if the member does not pay their entire out of pocket liabilities up front.

Cigna was also seeking the return of any benefit payments, as “overpayments” made to the medical provider where the member did not pay their entire out of pocket liability up front, specifically requesting the court to impose a “constructive trust on monies currently held by Defendants as a result of the overpayments made by Cigna…pursuant to an equitable lien”.

Out of network provider True View Surgery Center One, argued that the issues were already resolved in a previous case litigated in Texas, and that Cigna was attempting to take multiple bites out of the same apple in order to wrongfully deny legitimate medical claims.

The court focused on two main issues: 1) whether Cigna is barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel from pursuing their claims on behalf of ERISA plans; and 2) whether Cigna has adequately alleged traceability in order to recover alleged “overpayments”

Ultimately, the court agreed with defendant True View Surgery Center One and ruled “Cigna is barred by the doctrine of judicial estoppel” in its attempt to have the courts validate its fee forgiving protocols, and in its attempts to recover alleged “overpayments”

In his decision, Judge Covello cited the Humble case (Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. et al. v. Humble Surgical Hospital, LLC, Case number 4:13-cv-03291) where Cigna was slammed with a $17 million penalty and opined that the district court in Texas had already “addressed the issue” regarding Cigna’s fee forgiving protocols.

In citing the Humble case, the judge said “In Humble, the court held that Cigna’s interpretation of this “exclusionary” language was “legally incorrect,” and that “ERISA does not permit the interpretation embraced by Cigna.”

The judge went on to say that the Texas court found “because ‘[t]he average plan participant would not understand from the exclusionary language…that his/her coverage is expressly conditioned on whether Humble collects upfront, the entirety of his/her deductible, co-pay and co-insurance before Cigna pays,’ Cigna’s “exclusionary” language interpretation does not pass muster under the “average plan participant” test,” which ERISA requires.”.

The judge ultimately holds: “Cigna is relying on the interpretation of its ERISA plans that the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas held to be ‘legally incorrect’ in order to effectively deny providers’ benefit claims. Therefore, the doctrine of collateral estoppel bars Cigna from relitigating those [issues].”

As part of Judge Covello’s ruling on Cigna’s lack of traceability, in dismissing Cigna’s claim for “overpayments”, we must again look to the Humble case for clarification. According to the Humble court:

Cigna is not entitled to equitable restitution of any alleged overpayments based on the “tracing” method, as it cannot identify any specific res separate and apart from Humble’s general assets. See Health Special Risk, 756 F.3d at 366 (reasoning that “Sereboff did not move away from any tracing requirement; it distinguished between equitable liens by agreement—which do not require tracing—and equitable liens by restitution—which do.”). As the Court explained in Knudson, the basis for petitioners’ claim is “that petitioners are contractually entitled to some funds for benefits that they conferred. The kind of restitution that petitioners seek, therefore, is not equitable…but legal—the imposition of personal liability for the benefits that they conferred upon respondents.”Knudson, 534 U.S. at 214.”

All Out-of-Network providers and self-insured health plans should understand the implications of the court’s rulings in order to protect members and beneficiaries from inappropriate medical debt and bankruptcy and to safeguard and protect self-insured health plan assets from possible conversion, abstraction or “hidden fees”.  Education and understanding of these concepts will bring peace, harmony and compliance to the healthcare industry, especially when health plans are determined to contain healthcare costs and healthcare providers are dedicated to providing all patients with high quality, affordable healthcare when exercising their freedom of choice and right to seek out-of-network care.

For over 7 years, 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.

Over 100 CIGNA Administered Self-insured ERISA Health Plans Sued for Embezzlement-Health Plan Litigation Tsunami

Just eight days after a federal court slammed CIGNA with a $13M judgement, 113 of CIGNA’s self-insured clients, along with their Plan Administrators have been named as defendants in a massive fraud lawsuit, alleging the plansparticipated in a conspiracy and pattern of unlawful, reckless, and deceptive conduct to conceal an embezzlement and/or skimming scheme”.

According to court documents:

“Defendants never monitored or tracked the specific fees that Cigna was paying to itself and never required Cigna to itemize and account for the financial transactions made by Cigna in sufficient detail. Thus for any given claim, Defendants blindly permitted Cigna to withdraw plan funds for payment of the claims, but failed to track the true, actual amounts Cigna paid to itself.

This massive lawsuit comes on the heels of an unprecedented $13.7M ruling against CIGNA with $11.4M for underpaid claims and an additional $2.3M in statutory penalties. In that case, CIGNA’s fee forgiving protocol and claim for reimbursement of “overpayments” came under fire by the courts, ultimately ruling that CIGNA’s interpretation of plan’s “exclusionary language” provision as the basis for it’s fee forgiving protocol, was “flawed” and “legally incorrect“. The court also ruled that CIGNA’s claim for reimbursement of overpayments “fail as a matter of law” reasoning no lien or constructive trust was created and tracing requirements were not met.

Case info: True View Surgery Center One LP et. al v. MILA National Health Plan et.al, Case Number: 4:2016 cv01648 in the United states District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston office Court, Filed June 9, 2016.

This case is filed against CIGNA administered health plans and names the plan administrators individually. Among the defendants are many large, well known, national companies that reach across different sectors of the economy, from banking to manufacturing to retailers. Household names such as,  JP Morgan Chase, Chevron, Macy’s, Valero, BASF, Waste Management, Stanley Black and Decker and even Teach for America, were named as well as other smaller less recognized organizations. All have one thing in common: all are CIGNA administered self-insured health plans.

This latest case seems to be the culmination of a spate of recent cases alleging similar violations. This troubling pattern may be an indication that no employer sector is immune to possibly fraudulent claims processing practices. All of this seems to provide more evidence of increased scrutiny for self-insured health benefits, that has long been commonplace for retirement benefits.

The complaint alleges:

Defendants processed claims and determined that certain claim amounts were allowed under the Plans, yet those allowed claims payments were never made to Plaintiffs and instead [were] withheld by Cigna.

The complaint further alleges that the plans and their co-fiduciary Cigna advised patients and plaintiff medical providers, through the EOB’s, that if patients failed to pay the full cost-sharing, or out of pocket liabilities, at the time of their admission, the benefit claims payment would be withheld indefinitely by Cigna until medical providers submitted proof of full payment of the patient’s cost-sharing or out of pocket liabilities. And in a particularly nefarious maneuver, the plans and their co-fiduciary Cigna simultaneously advised patients they had no obligation to pay! Consequently, the medical provider plaintiffs would have nothing to forgive upfront or nothing to collect from the patient, according to the complaint.

The medical provider plaintiffs further argue: “In spite of the glaring conflict of interest and inherent breach of fiduciary duties, defendants allowed the wrongful withholding of plan benefit payments from Plaintiffs and agreed to an unlawful compensation structure that financially rewards Cigna.”, according to court records.

Most troubling are accusations that the Plans, even after being alerted to these potentially illegal practices and despite formal complaints being lodged with the DOL, astonishingly continued to delegate and authorize Cigna, to investigate its own alleged wrongdoing!

The complaint also alleges, “When defendants were confronted about this “withholding” of the Entitled Amount, instead of outright refuting the assertion, their co-fiduciary’s counsel stated “Replete throughout your letter is [plaintiff’s] contention that Cigna does not have the legal right or authority to withhold the payment benefits . . . [i]n fact, Cigna has every right to do so.

The complaint goes on to say, “Defendants allow funds from the Plans to be withdrawn under the guise of a “savings” compensation structure as a means to cloak blatant misappropriation of funds. That is defendants colluded with Cigna to apply a fake 100% “negotiated discount” of Plaintiff’s billed charges. Defendants, through Cigna, applied a fabricated contractual Obligation (“CO”) code.”

All ERISA health plans, medical providers and patients must educate themselves in order to understand the facts of these cases. For years, Cigna’s “fee forgiving protocol” has been a thorny issue for out-of-network providers across the nation and now, self-insured plans are starting to feel the pain of these potentially illegal practices.

Medical providers must be proactive and adopt compliant practices and policies. Health plans must also be proactive in validating that plan assets get returned to their plan, and not applied to cover shortfalls in another plan.

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.

 

United HealthCare Administered ERISA Plan Sued for Embezzlement in Medical Claims Overpayment Offset Dispute

On May 10, 2016, in the southern district of Texas Federal Court, United HealthCare administered self-insured ERISA plan, GAP Inc. and its Plan Administrators, Cynthia Radovich and Lesley Dale, were sued for alleged ERISA plan assets “self-dealing and embezzlement”, deceptively concealed through an “illegitimate recoupment scheme that financially rewards United for wrongfully recouping valid benefits”.

As we have written about before and as part of a growing trend, another self-insured health plan is being sued for alleged embezzlement and self-dealing. United HealthCare administered self-insured ERISA plan, GAP Inc. and plan administrators, Cynthia Radovich and Lesley Dale, were sued by out-of-network (OON) hospital, Redoak Hospital, LLC, for alleged ERISA plan assets “Self-dealing and embezzlement”, based on its co fiduciary, United HealthCare’s (UHC) alleged cross plan overpayment offset practices, according to court documents.

This extraordinary and multifaceted ERISA lawsuit will impact all ERISA self-insured plans, employer sponsored plan employees, and healthcare providers, resulting in uncertainties for every healthcare claim. Overpayment refund demands and cross-plan offset practices are the nation’s most insidious claim denials and may ultimately determine the fate of the entire U.S. ERISA healthcare system. 

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.

The Court Case Info: Redoak Hospital, LLC v. Gap Inc., Gap Inc. Health and Life Insurance Plan, Cynthia Radovich, and Lesley Dale,  in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, Case 4:16-cv-01303, Filed on 05/10/16.

According to court documents, Redoak Hospital Plaintiff filed a DOL EBSA Complaint on the alleged overpayment offset by the Defendants Plan, Gap, Inc, and the plan’s co-fiduciary, UHC, prior to filling this ERISA lawsuit, alleging:

 “This dispute arises out of Defendants’ ongoing and systematic ERISA violations consisting of an elaborate scheme to abstract, withhold, embezzle and convert self-insured Plan Assets that were approved and allegedly paid to Plaintiff for Plaintiff’s claim, to purportedly, but impermissibly, satisfy a falsely alleged ―overpayment‖ for another stranger claim, especially when the stranger is a plan beneficiary of a fully-insured plan that is insured by the Plan’s co-fiduciary, United Healthcare (hereinafter, ―United‖). Defendants knew or should have known that the Plan’s overpayment recovery provisions cannot be triggered until there is an allegation of overpayment by the Plan to the Plan Beneficiary subject to this action, and that converting the Plan Assets by a fiduciary or co-fiduciary of the Plan, in this case United, to the use of another and his own use, to ultimately pay to United’s own account is absolutely prohibited under ERISA statutes. Regardless, Defendants and United recklessly conspired, orchestrated and authorized to this kind of self-dealing and embezzlement even while being under active investigation by the Department of Labor and after repeated detailed alerts and notices from Plaintiff regarding the aforementioned.” according to the Court Documents.

In the Compliant, the Plaintiff makes the following:

 “COUNTS AGAINST DEFENDANTS:

The Plaintiff, as a statutory defined Claimant with a valid and unchallenged Assignment of Benefits, is entitled to ERISA rights ―to bring a civil action under section 502(a) of the Act following an adverse benefit determination on review‖ after Plaintiff has legally and administratively exhausted any and all appeal remedies.14 Therefore the Plaintiff is entitled to pursue Benefit claims: (i) to recover benefits due for already approved claims but abstracted and converted by the Defendants’ co-fiduciary, United; (ii) breach of fiduciary duty claims under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(2) in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 664, 29 U.S.C. § §1104, §1105, §1106(b)(1)(d); injunctive relief to enjoin the Defendants from engaging in prohibited transaction 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3); and (iii) injunctive relief to permanently remove the Defendants Cynthia Radovich and Lesley Dale from serving as fiduciaries to the Plan permanently under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3).” according to the Court Documents.

Avym Corp. announces a timely new ERISA Compliance Forum on May 17, 2016. At this new ERISA Compliance Forum, through Pittsburgh Business Group on Health (PBGH) Legislative Updates Forum, we will brainstorm, assess and demystify the potential impact of this unprecedented ERISA lawsuit for all interested parties.  PBGH is “The only employer-led, non-profit coalition of large, mid-size, and small organization representing various business segments including private and public employers, government and academia.”

According to industry estimates, the total dollar amount at issue nationwide is tremendous. Successful industry overpayment recoveries have reached into the billions of dollars nationwide over the past 5 to 7 years and involve many large carriers.  Thus recoupment through offsetting, when used as an anti-fraud initiative, has become an increasingly popular source of revenue for some insurers. While there is a need for anti-fraud initiatives in healthcare today, it is critical that every health plan comply with all applicable federal laws, ERISA and PPACA claims regulations, as well as statutory fiduciary duties. 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.

Over the past 6 years, Avym has closely followed decisions from the Supreme Court and federal appeals courts on ERISA prohibited self-dealing against ERISA plan TPA’s for managed care savings.

This latest lawsuit against a self-insured plan and plan administrators, for alleged plan assets embezzlement by the ERISA plan’s third party claim administrator (TPA), comes less than 6 months after a Cigna administered self-insured plan was sued in federal court for similar violations.

The Court Case info: True View Surgery Center One L.P., v.Chicago Bridge And Iron Medical Plan, Chicago Bridge And Iron Company, And Dennis Fox, Case #: 3:15-CV-00310, filed on Oct. 29, 2015, in the United States District Court For The Southern District of Texas.

In the Oct 29, 2015 lawsuit filed by OON provider True View Surgery Center, against the Cigna administered ERISA plan, the Plaintiff alleged in part:

“Specifically, in spite of the glaring conflict of interest and inherent breach of fiduciary duties, Defendants agreed to an unlawful compensation structure that financially rewards Cigna for wrongfully denying and underpaying benefits claims. Under this backdrop, together Defendants and Cigna concocted an intricate scheme to transfer and embezzle plan funds. Transfers are first concealed by processing out-of-network claims under a fabricated Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) “contractual obligation,” even though Defendants and Cigna are fully aware that no such contract exists. Then, Defendants and Cigna knowingly implemented a system to willfully and wrongfully refuse payments to the out-of-network provider under a sham “fee-forgiveness” protocol. As a result of the wrongful claims denials, the transferred plan funds are ultimately misappropriated by Cigna, who then fraudulently pays itself with the plan funds, falsely declaring the embezzled funds as compensation generated through managed care and out-of-network cost containment “savings,” when in truth the claims were never paid and the plan beneficiaries were left exposed to personal liability for their unpaid medical bills.”

On Oct 21, 2015, in a separate but similar lawsuit filed by an ERISA plan against a separate ERISA plan TPA, the Plaintiff alleged in part:

“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-Lex, a 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 pending ERISA cases 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,

Riverview Health Institute v. UnitedHealth Group Inc. et al, U.S. District Court, U.S. District of Minnesota (DMN), CIVIL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 0:15-cv-03064-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 6 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.

Supreme Court Montanile Decision Potentially Rewards Trillions to Self-Insured ERISA Health Plans

As One Door Potentially Closes, Another, More Substantial Door Opens For Self-Insured Health Plans

The January 20, 2016 Supreme Court Montanile decision potentially limits ERISA plan rights to subrogation lien recovery, but also 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.  All self-insured health plans should understand the Montanile decision’s trillion dollar impact.

The Supreme Court Montanile decision on January 20, 2016 limits an ERISA plan rights to subrogation lien recovery, but this decision also ensures potentially trillions of dollars in plan assets recovery for all self-insured ERISA plans nationwide, from all cross plan overpayment recoupments and offsets by plan TPA’s, as the Supreme court ruled: “[t]his rule applied to equitable liens by agreement as well as other types of equitable liens“.

The Supreme Court Montanile decision also limits and prohibits self-insured plan TPA’s from offsetting or converting self-insured plan claims payments into the TPAs own fully-insured account, for any alleged overpayments made from the TPA’s fully-insured plans, by claiming equitable relief under ERISA §502(a)(3);

While the case potentially limits ERISA plan rights to subrogation lien recoveries, the entire auto or personal injury subrogation lien market is relatively insignificant compared to the trillion dollar overpayment recoupment and offset market nationwide that exists within the $3.5 trillion in national healthcare expenditures.

Avym Corporation announces new, 2016 self-insured ERISA plan assets auditing and recovery projects, which are open to all large and medium self-insured ERISA plans, in order to (a) brainstorm, assess and realize the immediate true economic value of the Supreme Court Montanile decision; (b) immediately audit the plan assets for any possible conversion, embezzlement from the plan TPA’s cross plan overpayment recoupment or offset; (c) immediately recover or restore the plan assets under the Supreme Court Montanile decision and as required under ERISA statutory duties.

Supreme Court case info: Montanile v. Board of Trustees of the National Elevator Industry Health Benefit Plan, case #:  14-723, January 20, 2016

Supreme Court link to PDF copy.

Based on federal court documents and leading healthcare experts, billions of self-insured health plan claims assets may have been recouped or offset in order to satisfy alleged overpayments of fully insured plan claims.

Although the Supreme Court’s Montanile decision may have limited a plan’s right in the relatively small PI subrogation lien market, it has fundamentally and profoundly changed the landscape for medical claim overpayment offsets and recoupments, across separate plans and members, by self-insured plan co-fiduciary TPAs, in a practice otherwise known as “embezzlement ATM operations

According to the Court Documents, the Supreme Court ruled:

  • Plan fiduciaries are limited by §502(a)(3) to filing suits “to obtain … equitable relief.
  • [A]s here, an equitable lien by agreement, only against specifically identified funds that remained in the defendant’s possession or against traceable items that the defendant purchased with the funds.
  • If a defendant dissipated the entire fund on items, the lien was eliminated and the plaintiff could not attach the defendant’s general assets instead.
  • The Board’s arguments in favor of the enforcement of an equitable lien against general assets are unsuccessful. does not contain an exception to the general asset-tracing requirement for equitable liens by agreement.
  • In sum, at equity, a plaintiff ordinarily could not enforce any type of equitable lien if the defendant once possessed a separate, identifiable fund to which the lien attached, but then dissipated it all. The plaintiff could not attach the defendant’s general assets instead because those assets were not part of the specific thing to which the lien attached.
  • This rule applied to equitable liens by agreement as well as other types of equitable liens.

The Supreme Court Montanile decision makes it perfectly clear, any alleged overpayment lien of a fully-insured plan cannot attach to a different, self-insured plan fund or claims payment and it’s a basic principle of ERISA that a TPA for a self-insured plan is absolutely barred from converting claims payment of plan assets from the self-insured plan to pay for an alleged overpayment lien and retain all recovery for its own fully-insured account, and can be viewed as self-dealing and embezzlement.

The only question now is whether self-insured plan fiduciaries will take immediate corrective actions to safeguard plan assets or wait till the DOL knocks on their door with an audit alert.

Ironically, the Supreme Court’s Montanile decision also protects the respondent, the Board of Trustees of the National Elevator Industry Health Benefit Plan, from any and all offsets or patient embezzlements based on alleged overpayments to non-National Elevator Industry Health Benefit Plan members.

Over the past 6 years, Avym has closely followed the decisions from the Supreme Court and 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 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.