Medical Providers Fire Back At Cigna’s Motion, Telling The Judge That “Cigna Does Not Follow The Law, And It Misrepresents How It Actually Administers The Plans.”

In the Reply Brief of Plaintiffs Advanced Gynecology and Laparoscopy of North Jersey, et al v. Cigna Health and Life Insurance, Medical Providers allege that Cigna appears to not only ignore Plan and legal requirements of the Self-Insured Health Plans which it administers but also employs multiple schemes to pay substantially less for covered charges already acknowledged as accepted and processed under the Plan terms, ultimately improperly shifting the financial burden to the patients, according to court records.

Cigna shifts financial responsibility for covered expenses onto the backs of patients, their employers, and Plaintiffs, while Cigna’s profits grow.”

In this case, which we have written about before, a group of out-of-network Medical Providers sued Cigna for RICO and ERISA violations, alleging CIGNA accepts the out-of-network provider claims at the full billed charges and requests the same amount from the corresponding Self-Insured Health Plans. However, instead of paying the Provider or member, CIGNA hires a Repricing Company to try and negotiate a reduction.

The Providers further allege that if they refuse to negotiate, CIGNA pays the claim at an exorbitantly low level but appears to keep the difference between what was removed from the Self-Insured Health Plan and what was paid to the Providers. In an attempt to conceal this from both patients and Self-Insured Health Plans, CIGNA issues Electronic Remittance Advice (ERA) or paper Explanation of Benefits forms (EOB) misrepresenting the claim balance, or the difference between what was removed from the Plan and paid to the Providers, as a “Discount” to the members. The Subscriber EOBs certify the member is not responsible for the claim balance, simultaneously; the Provider ERAs represent the claim balance to the Providers, as a member liability or “Amount Not Covered”. The suit also alleges that CIGNA’s claims process for out-of-network claims, including the Cigna Claims, violates the “HIPAA standard transaction rules under 45 C.F.R. § 164”, by using incorrect “45” coding combinations”.

Case info: Advanced Gynecology and Laparoscopy of North al. v. Cigna Health and Life Insurance; Case Number: 2:19-cv-22234 in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, Filed December 31, 2019.

Cigna filed a Motion to Dismiss on May 06, 2020. The Medical Providers filed this reply to Cigna’s motion on July, 24, 2020: Reply brief of Plaintiffs Advanced Gynecology and Laparoscopy of North Jersey, et al v. Cigna Health and Life Insurance; 2:19-cv-22234; Doc 54, filed 7/24/2020.

According to the Providers, Cigna’s main argument is that the Health Plans do not entitle claims reimbursement of “100% of billed charges”. Indeed, that argument consumes much of Cigna’s 45-page motion, where “Cigna repeats this assertion forty times in its forty-five page brief.”

In rebuffing the argument, Providers tell the court Cigna mischaracterizes the Amended Complaint, explaining, “The Amended Complaint states clearly that Plaintiffs are entitled to reimbursement of “up to” 100% of the fees incurred by their Subscriber patients. “Up to” 100% plainly means Plaintiffs may be entitled to 100% reimbursement for some patients and some procedures, but may be entitled to less than 100% reimbursement for some patients and some procedures.”

The Providers further argue that Cigna misstates some claims and completely ignores others and has not actually responded to the detailed descriptions and numerous exhibits in the Amended Complaint that purport to show how Cigna fraudulently administers the Health Plan terms. Instead, Providers argue Cigna does not attack the Provider’s claims as pled because Cigna “lacks ammunition for that fight”; and Cigna’s own motion raises “factual disputes that can only be resolved after full discovery” and does not provide a basis to dismiss claims before such time.

According to court records, Cigna receives claims for reimbursement from out-of-network Providers and proceeds to draw down the full amount (Billed Charges) of the Provider’s claims from the trust funds of Cigna Administered Plans. However, instead of remitting the entirety of the funds to the Providers, Cigna remits only a fraction to the Providers and retains the rest for “impermissible purposes”, in violation of the terms of the various Health Plans and applicable costsharing mandates under state and federal law.

Court records allege Cigna uses four distinct schemes to embezzle and convert funds by defrauding patients, healthcare providers, and their own Self-Insured Health Plan clients by using direct quotes from Health Plans and Cigna’s own written communications: the “Fictitious Contracting Scheme”, a “Repricing Reduction Scheme”, the Contradictory EOB Scheme” and the “Forced Negotiations Scheme

The “Fictitious Contracting Scheme”: According to the Providers, Cigna Administered Health Plans and Subscribers are misled into believing that Cigna’s underpayments of out-of-network claims are legitimate because of an in-network contract or negotiated agreement with a third-party “Repricing Company”. The Providers allege Cigna falsely represents to patients that Cigna negotiated “discounts” with the out-of-network Medical Providers and that “Cigna negotiates discounts with health care professionals and facilities to help you save money.” Moreover, on the Provider ERA forms for the same transactions, Cigna uses the so-called “CO-45” code combination, with “CO” signifying “Contractual Obligation” and “-45” signifying “Charge exceeds fee schedule/maximum allowable or contracted legislated fee arrangement.” Cigna argues that this code combination is properly used when the medical provider’s “charge exceeds either the contracted in-network rate or the out-of-network maximum allowable rate like the MRC or R&C.”

“But when Cigna applies the “CO-45” coding combinations to amounts described as “discounts” on the patient EOBs, Cigna is falsely representing that Cigna “contracted” for the reduction.

The “Repricing Reduction Scheme”: The Providers also allege that Cigna misleads its own clients (Cigna Administered Self-Insured Health Plans) into paying “cost-containment” fees to Cigna and Repricing Companies calculated as a percentage of the underpayment in relation to the value of the Providers’ claims. Yet, while Cigna represents that “applying these discounts avoids balance billing and substantially reduces the patient’s out-of-pocket cost,” Cigna pays itself and the Repricing Companies cost-containment fees whether or not the cost-containment process saves the Self-Insured Health Plan money. Ironically, Cigna has been at the forefront of initiating litigation against out-of-network providers for not collecting patient liabilities in full. Interestingly, this case alleges that Cigna misrepresents the balance of unpaid claims as “Discounts” to its members.

The “Contradictory EOB Scheme”: Here the Providers allege that Cigna has tried to confuse and mislead them as well as patients, through false and inconsistent statements on Cigna-issued EOB forms issued to patients and ERA forms issued to the Providers. Cigna tells the Providers on the ERA forms that the amounts Cigna has held back are “not covered” by the Plans or are subject to “adjustments,” and the patient owes the balance. However, Cigna’s EOB forms issued to the patients for the same claim, report that Providers agreed to a “discount” and the patient has “saved” the rest.

According to court records, “it is impossible to reconcile Cigna’s statements on the patient EOBs—that a “discount” was applied to their claim and the patient “saved” the amount of the discount—with Cigna’s statements on the provider ERAs for the same claims, that make clear that the patient has not “saved” anything because they show that the patient owes a huge balance bill.

The “Forced Negotiations Scheme”: The fourth Scheme alleges that Cigna forces out-of-network Medical Providers to enter into negotiations for payment of valid claims, with the goal of either coercing or wearing down the Providers to accept drastic underpayments. Allegedly, Cigna conspires with repricing companies to misrepresent deep discounts, saying in some instances that the services are not covered. According to the Providers, Cigna’s processing system is set up to automatically send all out-of-network claims to the Repricing Companies. The repricing companies, in turn, send the Providers letters threatening that the services will not be covered at all, or that the Providers will be reimbursed at a percentage of the Medicare rate. Even worse, if the settlement offers are rejected, Cigna falsely declares large portions of the claim “not covered.”

All ERISA health plans, medical providers and patients must educate themselves in order to understand the facts of these cases.

For years large insurers’ controversial processes have been an issue for out-of-network providers across the nation. Now, self-insured plans are starting to feel the pain of these same, potentially illegal practices.

Health plans must be proactive in validating that plan assets are used to pay for their member’s medical expenses or otherwise get returned to their plan.

Avym has helped Self-Insured Health Plans recover millions from TPAs that engage in questionable practices. Avym advocates 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’s Fiduciary Overpayment Recovery Specialist (FOR) and Fiduciary Overpayment Recovery Contractor (FORC) programs contact us.

Don’t Leave Fox Guarding Employer Plan

Self-Insured Employer Health Plan Administrators, Plan Sponsors, and key decision-makers would do well to heed the old adage: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

In the ever-changing employer healthcare landscape, there has been an increasing group of professionals espousing “new solutions” that purport to offer substantial savings to self-insured employer health plans, particularly with out-of-network claims. One of the issues with many of these “new solutions” is that very few vendors/entities agree to accept fiduciary responsibility and the accompanying liabilities.

One of those “solutions” involves reference-based pricing (RPB). While relatively few employer plans have adopted RBP, some employers are considering this “new solution” under the impression that there are no other alternatives.

Employer health plans considering any of these “new solutions” should factor in the substantial risks before implementing any of these provisions plan wide, lest they are left facing lawsuits from their own members as well as medical providers.

This case offers a cautionary tale to self-funded employer health plans, where a self-insured employer health plan implemented a reference-based pricing mechanism. The case is Central Valley Ag Cooperative v. Leonard, No. 8:17CV379, 2019 WL 4141061, D. Neb. The plaintiffs, a self-insured health plan, Central Valley AG Cooperative Healthcare Plan and its plan sponsor and fiduciary, Central Valley, (collectively the “Plan”) filed the lawsuit against their own third party administrator and medical claim reviewers, asserting claims for breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA as well as self-dealing.

The Plan alleged that the vendors created a systematic reimbursement scheme that financially benefitted themselves at the expense of the members.

In summary, the Plan accused the vendors of cutting claims payments so low, substantially lower than contracted rates, that Plan members were hit with extremely high balance bills from medical providers that did not accept the RBP rates. This led to lawsuits against the Plan by medical providers and possible lawsuits against the plan by its own members.

Although the self-insured employer plan and plan sponsor agreed to the new pricing structure, according to court records, “claims payments to health care providers under the Plan virtually ceased. Providers complained the Plan was not paying them for services rendered to Plan participants”. The plan also alleged their own plan members were harmed and “subjected to collection efforts by physicians and other providers.” The complaint also alleged that “Several providers refused to render further services to Plan participants, their spouses, and their dependents.” Amazingly the Plan also alleged that it had “lost benefits from its stop-loss insurance carrier due to the extended claim disputes.

Ultimately, the court ruled against the Plan, leaving the Plan on the hook for costly litigation fees.

This case serves as a very important warning to self-insured health plans regarding “new solutions” where unscrupulous vendors will promise monumental savings with no adverse effects or balance billing to Plan members.

While there are many legitimate vendors providing valuable services, RBP at its core represents a zero-sum game, in that savings to employers have to come from somewhere, in this case, either the hospital, through negotiated reductions or the employees, through balanced billing.

Consequently, key decision makers should also be aware of overreaching promises such as “universally accepted fee schedules” and “total compliance” with state and federal laws.

Ultimately, legitimate vendors should be willing to accept fiduciary responsibility and all the liability that comes with it. Self-Insured Employer Health Plan Administrators, Plan Sponsors, and key decision-makers would do well to heed the old adage: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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.