Will Medicare cover my future medical expenses for my workers’ compensation injury if I settle my case? Yes, no, maybe…the answer to this question is always a tricky one. In fact, this is one of the most complex questions that will confront an injured worker at the time of settlement.
Most settlements are final. Once you agree, you may have created a binding contract that will have serious financial repercussions for you and your family. It’s best to be prepared ahead of time so you fully understand the potential impact of a settlement. Settlement agreements cannot be set aside except in very rare circumstances. Before settling your case, you should take a full accounting of your future medical expenses and your insurance coverage. In reviewing your medical needs, do not forget to account for over-the-counter medications. These costs add up quickly over time.
If you are already a Medicare beneficiary, it’s quite likely you will need to set aside a portion of your settlement for future medical expenses. Medicare may refuse to pay for medical coverage relating to your injuries unless you’ve allocated some of the settlement funds for future medicals. Determining how much to set-aside is another complicated question and usually an outside company is hired to help assist with this determination.
Furthermore, injured workers must also take into consideration the fact that there are certain medical expenses that Medicare may not cover. For example, when an injured worker needs someone to take care of them. Medicare will not pay for these services so the injured worker would be forced to pay if she failed to negotiate this amount prior to settlement. Also, even when Medicare does help foot the bill, the injured worker will still likely pay the coinsurance amount (typically 20%). In short, be careful and think about future medical expenses.
Medicare should not pay medical bills that are the primary responsibility of a third party. When they do, they want to be reimbursed, and all parties understand that concept, but the problem is the lengthy delays and lack of due process. The SMART Act, which was signed into law by President Obama on January 10, 2013, amends and reforms the Medicare Secondary Payer Act to improve the reimbursement process. It is located in Title II of H.R. 1845 and entitled “Strengthening Medicare Secondary Payer Rules.”
Section 201 requires CMS to maintain a secure web portal with access to claims and reimbursement information. Payments for care made by CMS must be loaded onto the portal within 15 days of the payment being made. The portal must also provide supplier or provider names, diagnosis codes, dates or service, and conditional payment amounts. Moreover, the portal must accurately identify that a claim or payment is related to a potential settlement, judgment or award. After several steps, the parties may download a final conditional payment amount from the website. If there is a dispute over the conditional payment amount, CMS must respond/resolve the dispute within 11 days or the proposed resolution by the claimant/applicable plan will be deemed accepted. In terms of appeals, CMS must draft regulations that give applicable insurance plans limited appeal rights to challenge final conditional payment amounts. This process will go into effect around April of 2013.
Section 202 states that by November 15th of each year (beginning in 2014), CMS is required to calculate and publish a threshold for liability claims. If an amount owed is under that threshold amount, CMS is barred from seeking repayment. Section 205 states the statute of limitations for conditional payment recovery by CMS is three years after the receipt of notice of a settlement, judgment, award, or other payment made.
The SMART Act applies to workers’ compensation cases, so it is important to understand the law and how it will be applied in the future. Read it and follow its implementation closely.