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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to the DOL Memorandum:

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

The Memorandum goes on to point out:

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

Original DOL Press Release

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

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

For over 7 years, Avym Corp. has advocated for ERISA plan assets audit and embezzlement recovery education and consulting. With new Supreme Court guidance on ERISA anti-fraud protection, we are ready to assist all self-insured plans recover billions of dollars of self-insured plan assets, on behalf of hard-working Americans. To find out more about Avym Corporation’s Fiduciary Overpayment Recovery Specialist (FOR) and Fiduciary Overpayment Recovery Contractor (FORC) programs click here.

Blue Cross Michigan Hit With Flurry of ERISA Lawsuits

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

By Jacklyn Wille

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to the DOL and court records:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For over 7 years, Avym Corp. has advocated for ERISA plan assets audit and embezzlement recovery education and consulting. With new Supreme Court guidance on ERISA anti-fraud protection, we are ready to assist all self-insured plans recover billions of dollars of self-insured plan assets, on behalf of hard-working Americans. To find out more about Avym Corporation’s Fiduciary Overpayment Recovery Specialist (FOR) and Fiduciary Overpayment Recovery Contractor (FORC) programs click here.

 

Another Cigna Administered ERISA Health Plan, DHL Express, Sued for Embezzlement


CIGNA client, DHL Express, and its plan administrator, Robert Whitaker have been sued in federal court in Houston, alleging that the giant delivery company teamed up with its insurance company and brazenly engaged in a “scheme to withhold, embezzle, and convert ERISA plan assets through a pattern of fraudulent benefits transactions and prohibited self-dealing misconduct. Under this backdrop, together Defendants and Cigna concocted an intricate scheme to transfer and embezzle plan funds.”

According to the complaint, DHL and their parent company, colluded with CIGNA: “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.

Additionally, the alleged scheme by DHL and Cigna left patients responsible for more than their designated share of the cost under the terms of the health care plan, “resulting in an arrangement where Cigna, a co-fiduciary, reprehensively competes with the Plan’s own beneficiaries for entitlement to plan funds.”, according to the lawsuit.

Case info: Center for Advanced Surgical Treatment v. DHL Express and Robert Whitaker in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, Case Number: 4:16 cv01919; Filed June 30, 2016.

This latest case seems to be another brick in the wall of ongoing cases, alleging similar violations, against CIGNA administered health plans across multiple sectors of the economy. Among top companies ensnared in litigation by CIGNA’s practices include household names such as Macys, JP Morgan Chase and Chevron. These practices may be endemic to the industry as a whole as evidenced by other large UnitedHealth administered health plans, such as GAP and AT&T that have also faced lawsuits alleging similar violations.

The complaint further alleges that DHL had complete and full knowledge of the possible scheme but not only refused to conduct an investigation, consistent with its fiduciary duty, but actually delegated the investigation to the fiduciary CIGNA, the alleged perpetrator of the embezzlement!

According to court documents:

Despite actual knowledge of Cigna’s self-dealing misconduct stemming from repeated alerts and warnings from Plaintiff’s official ERISA Appeals, Defendants systematically refused to take corrective action, and instead, DELEGATED INVESTIGATION OF THE SUSPECTED WRONGDOING TO CIGNA [emphasis added]”- the identified perpetrator of the misconduct.”

And, in a particularly reprehensible move, the complaint further alleges that the plans and their co-fiduciary Cigna may have intentionally misrepresented to the patients, through the EOB’s, the actual amount that was covered and paid on the claims.

The complaint alleges: “According to the explanation of benefits that was sent to the Patient, it appeared that all of the charges were denied in error and the total amount of the charges covered was $200,355.00.   However, this amount was never paid to Plaintiff, but was kept by Cigna.”

The latest DHL lawsuit, which was filed on June 30, 2016, comes on the heels other recent lawsuits involving Cigna and Cigna Administered ERISA health plans:

  • an unprecedented $13.7M ruling against CIGNA, filed on June 1, 2016, 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.
  • eight days later, on June 9, 2016 over 100 of CIGNA’s self-insured clients, along with their Plan Administrators were named as defendants in a massive fraud lawsuit, alleging the plans “participated in a conspiracy and pattern of unlawful, reckless, and deceptive conduct to conceal an embezzlement and/or skimming scheme
  • and just twelve days after 100 Cigna client were sued, on June 21, 2016, Macys, another Cigna Administered ERISA Health Plan, was sued for embezzlement, alleging “Cigna issued a payment check to Plaintiff to satisfy a claim filed by Plaintiff for services performed on a patient, who is a Plan Beneficiary of Defendants; however, in addition to issuing a check to Plaintiff, Cigna issued a secret check to itself for the same amount. Cigna then cashed the secret check it issued to itself, and then placed a stop on the check issued to Plaintiff before Plaintiff could receive and cash the check to reimburse itself for services performed on Defendants’ Plan Beneficiary

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.

Macys, Another Cigna Administered ERISA Health Plan, Sued for Embezzlement, Issuing “Secret Checks”

Macys Inc. and Plan administrator, Stephen J. O’Bryan, were sued and named as defendants in federal court for ERISA violations, for allegedly engaging in a “a systematic embezzlement and/or conversion scheme involving the Plan Assets of the Plan“. This is the second lawsuit filed against Cigna Administered ERISA health plan Macy’s in less than a month.

According to the complaint,

Cigna issued a payment check to Plaintiff to satisfy a claim filed by Plaintiff for services performed on a patient, who is a Plan Beneficiary of Defendants; however, in addition to issuing a check to Plaintiff, Cigna issued a secret check to itself for the same amount. Cigna then cashed the secret check it issued to itself, and then placed a stop on the check issued to Plaintiff before Plaintiff could receive and cash the check to reimburse itself for services performed on Defendants’ Plan Beneficiary

The complaint further alleges that “Cigna also issued deceptive and inconsistent documents to Plaintiff and the Patient-Plan Beneficiary, specifically the Provider Explanation of Medical Payment, Provider Explanation of Medical Payment Report, Patient Explanation of Benefits, and Cigna Claim Details Sheet.“.

According to the court documents, Macys, through Cigna, sent EOBs telling the hospital that it would not get paid until it provided proof the patient paid their entire out-of-pocket costs, at the same time, according to the complaint, Macys, through Cigna, sent a different EOB to its member patients telling them they owed nothing!

Case info: REDOAK Hospital, LLC v. Macys Inc., Welfare Benefits Plan and Stephen J. O’Bryan Case Number: 4:16-cv-01783 in the United states District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston office Court, Filed June 21, 2016.

The Macys lawsuit, which was filed on June 21, 2016, comes on the heels of two other recent lawsuits involving Cigna and Cigna Administered ERISA health plans:

  • an unprecedented $13.7M ruling against CIGNA, filed on June 1, 2016, 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.
  • eight days later, on June 9, 2016 over 100 of CIGNA’s self-insured clients, along with their Plan Administrators were named as defendants in a massive fraud lawsuit, alleging the plans “participated in a conspiracy and pattern of unlawful, reckless, and deceptive conduct to conceal an embezzlement and/or skimming scheme” 

The complaint also alleges that Macys and Cigna engaged in a complicated scheme involving “fabricated” Viant repricing discounts. The complaint alleges:

“In addition to the “fee-forgiveness scheme”, Defendants and Cigna also concocted another intricate scheme to abstract and embezzle Plan Assets. Abstraction of the Plan Assets are concealed by processing Plaintiff’s out-of-network claim under a fabricated Viant Repricing Discount, even though Defendants and Cigna are fully aware of the fact that no such contract exists between Plaintiff and Viant.4 Defendants allowed Cigna to convert the full Viant discounted amount from patient-Plan Beneficiary’s Allowed Amount to Cigna’s own use, all while concealing and intentionally misrepresenting to patient-Plan Beneficiary that is has converted the Viant discounted amount through informing patient-Plan Beneficiary that the Viant Discount is $0.00.”

Also, according to court documents, the member is ultimately left holding the bag:

“As a result of the wrongful claim denial schemes concocted by Defendants and Cigna, all of the transferred Plan Assets are ultimately misappropriated by Cigna to fraudulently pay itself with Defendants’ withdrawn Plan Assets by falsely declaring the converted Plan Assets as compensation for itself generated through managed care and out-of-network cost containment “savings”, when in truth and in fact, the claim was never paid to Plaintiff and the patient-Plan Beneficiary is left exposed to personal liability for the full amount of his unpaid medical bills.”

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. The courts have provided clear guidance regarding Cigna’s “fee forgiving protocol” which 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.

 

 

 

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.

 

Cigna Administered ERISA Plan Sued for Embezzlement in Out Of Network Medical Claims Disputes-Cautionary Tale for All Self-Insured Health Plan Administrators

This bellwether lawsuit in ERISA healthcare claims disputes presents a cautionary tale for all self-insured plan administrators with “Head in the Sand” TPA monitoring practices. Cigna administered self-insured ERISA plan, CB&I and its Plan Administrator, Dennis Fox, were sued for alleged ERISA plan assets embezzlement, deceptively concealed through “fake PPO (CO) discounts” and Cigna’s “fee forgiveness protocol scam”.

On Oct. 29, 2015, in southern district of Texas Federal Court, a Cigna administered self-insured ERISA plan, CB&I and its Plan Administrator, Dennis Fox, were sued by an out-of-network (OON) surgical center, True View Surgery Center One, for alleged ERISA plan assets embezzlements, deceptively concealed with alleged “fake PPO (CO) discounts” and “fee forgiveness protocol scam”. This innovative and cutting edge ERISA health Plan lawsuit, by an OON healthcare provider for alleged plan assets embezzlement by the ERISA plan’s third party claim administrator (TPA), was filed just eight (8) days after a different self-insured plan filing on a similar lawsuit, (FAC on Oct. 21, 2015), against the plan’s TPA for allegedly similar plan assets conversion with respect to OON claims administration between the ERISA plan and TPA.

According to the court documents:

“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.”

In pursuance of this signpost lawsuit, Avym Corp. announces a new division of its ERISA litigation support and/or prevention program, in order to:

  1. Closely track this type of unprecedented but most dramatic emerging trend in ERISA healthcare litigation in today’s evolving managed care market including:
    • Analyze new litigation allegations of plan assets embezzlement to be made by plan sponsors and plan administrators, healthcare providers and federal regulatory and enforcement agencies against TPAs;
    • Understand managed care TPA litigation defense strategies and trial evidence;
    • Decipher court decisions and alternative resolutions to this new trend in the alleged conflict in ERISA prohibited transaction against health plan TPA’s for managed care costs containment and savings tactics;
  2. Demystify these new lawsuits and the implications to plan sponsors and providers, specifically, how the lawsuit will ultimately impact all out-of-network claim disputes.

It is standard industry practice for self-insured health plans to engage in out of network “cost containment” or third party “repricing agreements” with out of network providers, in an effort to lower costs or save money. However, plaintiff’s allegations shed light on possible abuses that take place disguised as legitimate practices. TPA’s tactics of applying non-existent or “fake” PPO discounts are very familiar to all out-of-network medical providers. According to court documents:

“The self-dealing embezzlement scheme perpetrated by Cigna and Defendants is even more repugnant because Cigna duplicitously demands proof from the provider that it collected the patient’s co-insurance and deductibles in full when it explicitly instructed the provider not to bill the patient.”

Over the past 5 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.

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, a 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 the court documents.

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

For over 6 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 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.