Haro v. Sebelius: Medicare Liens

I’ve written a lot about how personal injury lawyers have to and should deal with medical and other liens. When I go back and look at the web traffic generated by these posts, it typically gets low page views, probably from the same 20 lawyers that read all of our nitty-gritty details on handling personal injury cases stuff.

Not so with Haro v. Sebelius, a new opinion from Arizona that may dramatically alter the relationship between Medicare (and Medicaid, but I lump Medicaid into Medicare for grammatical ease). I think the big difference in the impact of Haro v. Sebelius is something car accident and medical malpractice lawyers are feeling right now.

Here’s the deal in a nutshell. Haro v. Sebelius is a lawsuit filed by two Medicare beneficiaries for whom Medicare benefits were paid for treatment that was ostensibly needed as the result of a car accident. Interestingly, the car accident lawyer in this underlying case is also a named plaintiff.

The Medicare beneficiaries challenged Medicare’s right to demand reimbursement within 60 days of receiving settlement proceeds when plaintiffs’ still could have appealed the initial ruling. The lawyer’s lawsuit seeks to toss out one of Medicare’s nuclear weapons: Medicare’s threat to hold personal injury attorneys personally liable for their client’s Medicare lien. The nuclear analogy is apt: I really think Medicare has only done this once. (I could be wrong about this.) But everyone plaintiffs’ lawyer is scared to be the second.

Anyway, Haro v. Sebelius has the potential to flip off of this on its head.

One point lost in all of this: while Medicare is difficult to deal with in terms of handling lien reductions and in terms of logistics and such, Medicare is usually quite reasonable at the proverbial end of the day. I recall a few cases where I thought the final reductions were indefensible.

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