Nuances on Achieving MSA Approval

Last month, we covered the 10,000' view of the system used by the Worker's Compensation Review Contractor (WCRC) to determine the merits of a Medicare Set Aside (MSA) account proposal. Not surprisingly, each separate element of the system also includes a series of smaller systems designed to clarify ever more granular information about the injured party, their injuries, their prognosis, and who will be covering those healthcare costs going forward. MSA professionals who master those more precise details are better prepared to achieve a swift and successful MSA acceptance when submitting their client's proposal.

 

Three Rules to Remember

When developing an MSA proposal, it's easy to miss critical but tiny details when your focus is on the much larger picture. However, in many instances, it is because of errors, confusion, or lack of the information that should be contained in these details that proposals get rejected or delayed. Delays occur when the WCRC doesn't get the data it needs to conduct a thorough review. Rejections happen when ill-prepared proposals reveal a claimant who is not eligible for Medicare, whose case doesn't meet the threshold, or when the case's legal issues aren't resolved (among many, many other reasons). Both delays and rejections are expensive because they mandate either additional work or waste the work that's been done. They also drag out the case for a longer period of time, incurring additional legal and other fees for associated services.

 

Here are three rules to remember when crafting an MSA proposal. Professionals who want to achieve the swiftest acceptance of their accurate and appropriate MSA proposal will have paid particular attention to these suggestions.

 

1)      Don't Skip the Prerequisites

It's best practice to ensure that all essential information is accurate and included in every MSA proposal, yet, often, it is these precise details that get missed.

 

Complete Information about the Claimant

In addition to the basics, the Claimants' name, date of birth, address, and Medicare Identity number (or social security number if not yet Medicare-eligible), the proposal must also include:

 

Proposals filed on behalf of claimants who are Medicare eligible must include:

 

Complete Information about the Legal Case

Because a workers’ compensation claim is at the heart of most MSA proposals, it is crucial to include:

Additionally, it is important to list out the details of the proposed settlement costs, including the total proposed settlement amount, which should cover economic values for:

Perhaps most importantly, include the total and detailed itemization of the proposed MSA amount, including the presumed costs of both medical care and drug costs. This itemized value is the cost Medicare would avoid paying because the WC insurer is assuming that obligation.

 

Complete Information about the Substance of the MSA

The proposal should also include clear documentation for each element of the MSA case - those details that are of specific interest to Medicare, including:

 

 

Complete Information about the Administration of the MSA

In addition to the factors indicating the case's financial resolution, the WCRC is also interested in the administration of the MSA once it is established. The MSA proposal should, therefore, include data detailing these activities, such as:

 

 

2)      Don't Muddy the Water

It's not unusual for an MSA proposal to include more than one injury, and CMS details how to manage those circumstances, too.

 

Document, Document, Document

The mandate to protect Medicare from paying for costs that aren't its rightful obligation is always the WCRC's primary concern, and multiple claims within a single submission can cloud the specifics of each. Ergo, asserting numerous injuries in a single MSA proposal also triggers the requirement to provide additional information to inform the WCRC about the proposed resolution of each of the cases. In these cases, the WCRC separates out each case according to the relevant date of injury (DOI).

 

Start at the Top

It is critical to inform the WCRC in the cover letter:

 

The WCRC wants assurance of a complete accounting for each individual claim, so it will look to the Claimant's proposal for information supporting those declarations. Some Claimants can lump all the DOI cases into a single MSA amount and are also able to describe how those distributions will work in execution. Other Claimants may separate each DOI case into a separate MSA and build out those MSA amounts accordingly.

 

If the WCRC doesn't get enough information about managing multiple injuries, it will close the file until it receives that data in writing.

 

Parse Out the Data for Each DOI

The proposal should include all relevant information identified by DOI regarding accepted and alleged injured body parts. Most helpful for the WCRC reviewer are the appropriate ICD-9 or ICD-10 codes (noting that the ICD-9 codes apply only to injuries sustained before September 30, 2015). Accompanying the codes should all associated payment histories, medical records, and detailed prescription histories for all medications received as a consequence of the injury.

 

Note, too, that if less than all claims have resolved sufficiently for an MSA discussion and claims will remain open, then the overall case is not yet eligible for review. 'Open' cases include those where there are some body parts still receiving treatment, where the insurance carrier continues to pay from some but not all treatments on a particular body part, or where medical claims are settled but pharmaceutical claims are not.

 

3)      Don't Miss the Mark on the Drug Data

A significant percentage of every MSA proposal covers the cost of prescription medications, and the WCRC will pay careful attention to the adequacy of the proposed prescription drug costs.

 

All treatments included in the MSA proposal must also be covered by Medicare and follow both national and local coverage guidelines.

 

The Medicare Set Aside account provides the best possible support for an injured worker who needs ongoing medical care for that injury. When carefully crafted and correctly submitted, the MSA proposal avoids unnecessary delays and provides the documentation required to get the account established and the Claimant moving forward.

The MSA – A Nexus of Legal and Medical Interests

Just as no two car crashes are the same, neither are two Workers’ Compensation cases (WC), especially when the need for a Medicare Set Aside (MSA) account is a possibility. To ensure the protection of the interests of both the injured worker and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) throughout the WC claim process, CMS uses both medical and legal principles to confirm the values submitted in every MSA proposal. Companies submitting MSA proposals should be familiar with those principles to avoid unnecessary delays or other complications when working to resolve the case.

 

No Two Injured Workers are the Same

Lawyers will tell you that every legal case is unique. Even incidents with almost identical fact patterns will differ based on the individual circumstances of those specific occurrences. Doctors will tell you the same thing; patients with identical diagnoses will have different treatment plans and prognoses based on their biological circumstances. Consequently, when the Workers’ Compensation Review Contractor (WCRC) reviews an MSA proposal, they look at the individual and unique circumstances of both the legal and medical situations when deciding to accept, modify or reject it. Not surprisingly, those reviews are comprehensive and complex. WC claimants and parties to the WC case who understand and follow the WCRC's procedural review guidelines stand a better chance of obtaining a swift response and acceptance of their proposal so they can resolve the case and move on.

 

New Guide - Clearer Guidelines

CMS recently updated its Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set Aside Reference Guide (now version 3.2) to clarify the steps its WCRCs take when reviewing submitted MSA proposals. Any party seeking an MSA should follow these guidelines and use the same tools used by the WCRC to determine the values they include in their documents.

 

Legal Principles and Factors

The WC case incorporates both legal and medical factors. To resolve the issues in the legal proceeding, the parties work together to determine the exact cause of the injury, who (or what) was responsible for causing it, the nature and extent of the damage, and who will pay for the medical costs needed to help the injured worker recover from it.

 

The WCRC begins its review by ensuring all the legal requirements are met and appropriate:

 

Medical Principles and Factors

The medical evaluation is more complicated than the legal review. Every claimant presents with individual characteristics, each of which can influence how they experience their injury, the choice of treatment they receive, and the nature and extent of their recovery period. To properly evaluate every claimant, the WCRC team uses a series of tools to ensure their review is as comprehensive to that individual as possible.

 

The MSA Proposal Review

After the relevant medical and legal elements are clarified, the WCRC then reviews them to determine whether the MSA values suggested are appropriate in this circumstance. This review also looks for other factors that might influence their final valuation estimate. Questions they might ask include:

The WCRC team also reviews the details of treatment and therapy already received as an indicator of the level of treatment that may be needed in the future. This review includes not just doctor visits and lab tests but also pharmaceutical recommendations and allocations, specialist inputs, and any other factors that might influence the claimant's recovery period and the cost of future medical care. At any time in the review process, the team can send the proposal back, requesting more information or corrections for information previously submitted.

 

Getting to Approval

The WCRC team looks at all this documentation to determine whether the proposed future treatment costs - medical, pharmaceutical, and therapeutic - are acceptable, given the parameters and protocols required by CMS and MSA rules. When they conclude the review, they submit a recommendation to CMS about accepting the proposal and whether it protects Medicare's interests:

 

Developing an MSA proposal requires attention to detail and extensive legal and medical knowledge. The revised Reference Guide provides a roadmap for MSA professionals to craft a comprehensive document that should move quickly through the CMS approval process.

 

 

 

The New Business "Best Practice:"

Last month, we discussed how the lack of CMS guidance in liability cases leaves Medicare and Medicare-eligible people ('Beneficiaries') in the dark about paying for injuries and illnesses they've developed due to exposure to the coronavirus. Many companies count on those populations to make their living. Potential coronavirus exposures that occur in their place of business are now creating liability exposures if/when their clients and customers can tie those exposures to their time within those walls. Those company owners who want to both open their enterprise and reduce their risk of liability for inadvertent COVID-19 exposures should review their reopening processes carefully and build in as many "virus-avoidant best practices" as possible.

 

It's No Longer Business as Usual

It's hard to know where to start reopening a business that has been shuttered since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every company that routinely welcomes paying customers onto their premises must make accommodations to keep them safe from a potential coronavirus exposure. Employers are doubly taxed: they must provide as safe an environment as possible for their workers and their customers. Not only could an outbreak at their site create resonating workers’ compensation issues, but it also poses a risk of liability issues when it's a customer who falls seriously ill with the disease.

 

And those concerns layer over the challenges arising when trying to resume 'normal' operations:

With so much to think about, it seems apparent that moving forward requires a well-thought-out strategy that balances every contingency, identifies and manages each risk, and maximizes as much as possible the profitability of each transaction.

Managing the Risks Inherent in Reopening During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Perhaps the biggest threat to the reopened company is the risk of inadvertently causing a COVID-19 outbreak. Company owners must manage two separate but similar concerns to ensure their enterprise isn't the next COVID-19 hot spot:

 

Protecting Workers

Some businesses have a higher risk of triggering an outbreak simply by their nature. Restaurants, hotels, gyms, and spas, to name just a few, must welcome the general public to stay in business. Their workers, therefore, are exposed to whatever contagions their customers carry. The close physical proximity and being indoors contribute to the spread of the virus among patrons and staff alike.

 

From a workers’ compensation point of view, the answer to one specific question arising from the situation has the potential to impact every employer in the country:

 

Is COVID-19 an 'Occupational Disease'?

Traditionally, the employer's workers' compensation (WC) insurance policy covers both injuries and 'occupational diseases,' when those arise within the 'course and scope' of the job. The coronavirus and its consequent disease, COVID-19, present a new wrinkle in the discussion about what constitutes 'course' and 'scope' of employment.

 

'Occupational diseases' typically develop when workers are exposed to toxic substances or materials inherently contained within production processes or employment practices. Firefighters and coal miners frequently develop occupationally-caused lung diseases related to the inhalation of toxic fumes and dust. Healthcare workers often contract the highly infectious conditions they find in their patients, such as tuberculosis or hepatitis.

The coronavirus is not an 'occupational disease' in the traditional sense because its contraction isn't limited to a specific occupation or job. Instead, because it spreads via airborne particles exhaled wherever an infected person might go, it can infect anyone in any position when there are insufficient protections in place to prevent that infection.

 

The hospitality industry is particularly vulnerable to triggering coronavirus outbreaks because of the frequency of customer turn-over. The more people there are entering the business, the higher the risk that one of them is an asymptomatic person carrying the virus, who, thereafter, unknowingly infects a staff person. Because hospitality workers must - by the nature of their work - interact with potentially infected customers, they can argue that their subsequent infection was, indeed, contracted within the 'course and scope' of their job. Their healthcare costs should be born by their employers WC insurer. The argument tries to move the job-related COVID-19 infection into that class of employment-related 'occupational diseases' that enjoy a "presumption of compensability:" if you contract the virus from a presumed work-based source, then your related healthcare costs are expected to be covered by the WC insurer.

 

Not surprisingly, there is a lot of push back against the 'presumption of compensability' that limits the employer's opportunity to point out the worker's other possible transmission points (family members, i.e.) and thereby deflect the burden of added COVID-19-related WC premiums.

Also, not surprisingly: those arguments and more are now the focus of discussion for more than one state government and WC insurer.

 

Protecting Customers

We noted last month our belief that COVID-19 cases will trigger thousands of liability lawsuits, as infected sufferers look for ways to obtain and cover the cost of the healthcare services they need. For sufferers who are also 'Beneficiaries,' those lawsuits will take on added significance. This population is at risk for worse infections with more severe symptoms and often take longer to recover. Further, because they often also have underlying health conditions that complicate their COVID-19 case, they are also more likely to suffer permanent damage and injury. In those cases, they will need COVID-19-related healthcare services for the rest of their lives. Lawsuits filed by members of this population will provide the necessary evidence to ensure that CMS doesn't bear the brunt of those added COVID-19-related expenses in its future healthcare payments. By bringing the suit, Beneficiaries will have access to a separate healthcare fund without imperiling their future Medicare healthcare coverage.

 

Sensible Precautions for All Populations

Fortunately, implementing safeguards and precautions to prevent business-based coronavirus infections protect all populations as much as is possible, considering what is currently known about how the virus spreads. Today's best business practice is implementing a virus-protection plan to avoid getting hit with unnecessary WC or liability claims for COVID-19 infections.

 

There are two fundamentals to consider when developing your plan: how to make the physical plant safe, and how to modify business practices to keep workers and customers safe.

 

Steps to Safeguard Your Workplace

A walk through the place of business and a review of current practices will each reveal vulnerabilities that might cause a virus exposure. Manage whatever threats exist, then change your policies to prevent those risks from emerging again.

 

It's abundantly clear that covering the healthcare and related costs of just one COVID-19 case are high, and that they become exponentially greater when staff and customers are the sufferers. Establishing appropriate safety precautions throughout the enterprise to protect both staff and customers is imperative for every business struggling to keep afloat in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It's always better to prevent a disaster than recover from one, and all too often, a COVID-19 outbreak has caused the demise of many excellent companies. Don't let yours be one of them.

 

The MSA & Liability Cases: Who’s Going to Pay for That?

Decades of continuing silence on the role of Medicare Set Aside (MSA) accounts in liability cases may prove disastrous in the face of the injuries and damages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. America's aging population is growing, and more people reach Medicare-eligibility every day. Any injuries they suffer due to the virus and its debilitating disease will become an issue for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

 

 

Liability Cases Raise Different Issues than Workers Compensation Cases

The challenge is this: any entity - any business, any service provider, and even any individual - could be found liable if something they did or didn't do is proven to have caused a COVID-19 infection in a successful plaintiff. When that plaintiff is also a Medicare recipient or is Medicare-eligible (Beneficiaries), resolving the liability case should also include the establishment of an MSA to ensure compliance with the Medicare Secondary Payer Act (MSP) and to protect CMS from paying for injuries that are rightly attributed to that primary payer.

 

However, that there are no clear rules in place regarding MSAs in liability cases will create havoc for all entities involved in the issue:

 

There’s Not So Much Awareness of MSAs in the Liability Community

Most employers and insurers are aware of the MSP obligations mandated when Beneficiaries are injured on the job (although many entities are looking to limit that liability for workers who contract COVID on the job). However, the general public may not be mindful that those mandates also apply to non-WC cases where a person or entity is deemed responsible for injuries occurring to a Beneficiary outside the workplace setting. The majority of the general public may not have ever heard about the MSP. They aren't aware that the Act requires no-fault and liability insurance to be the primary payer for accidental or 'other situation-related health care services, claimed or released' when the injured party is a Beneficiary. When these cases arise (and they will), those entities grappling with confounding legal concerns will be even more baffled by a lack of CMS guidance on the wisdom of including MSA calculations for the liability lawsuit.

 

Making things worse are two aspects of the pandemic that are converging ominously:

 

The American Population is Aging

The 'Baby Boomer' generation, those born between 1946 and 1964, is aging, and now numbers more than 52,000,000. In 2011, the first wave of these 'Boomers' hit Medicare eligibility, and the last of them won't cross that threshold for another nine years. Further, of the 52 million, approximately 45 million are retired and drawing their Social Security Benefits. Those who contract the COVID-19 virus and require medical help to recover from it will have to find another healthcare resource to pay for those services. For many, that identity of that resource may only be revealed in the courtroom.

 

Non-Workers are Beneficiaries, Too

Almost everyone in that older population group has the potential to be a Beneficiary plaintiff:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still No CMS Guidance on MSAs for Liability Cases

The CMS has promised some form of 'guidance' on using MSAs in liability cases for years. In its Fall 2018 notification, CMS indicated that the new rules would give Beneficiaries better opportunities to manage their future healthcare needs while also protecting Medicare's interests. It suggested the new guidance would be issued sometime in 2019. That didn't happen.

 

Instead, in 2020, an updated notice stated that the new rule would 'clarify' that it would be the Beneficiary's responsibility to protect Medicare's interest in the liability suit and that more information would be made available by August. August has now come and gone, and still, no word from CMS about the liability MSA question.

 

The delay is, however, causing its own angst:

 

 

 

Clearly, the process of designing and implementing an MSA strategy for liability cases involving Beneficiaries is complex at the best of times. The COVID-19 pandemic makes these, arguably, the worst of times to be mandating the use of such a complicated tool in an entirely new class of cases. However, the MSP is clear: Medicare is the mandatory secondary payor for Beneficiary healthcare costs caused by a third-party. Failing to clarify that point in any Beneficiary-related liability lawsuit threatens the stability of that case resolution, and/or opens CMS to risk of using Medicare funds to pay for another entity's errors.

 

What we do know is this:

 

 

 

 

There are (most likely) a lot of Beneficiary-related, liability-based lawsuits on the way. Planning now to manage a possible CMS MSA application within them will save all parties time, money, and stress.

Coverage in the Age of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed life around the world, halting whole global industries while shutting down cities, regions, and countries. The necessity of shuttering a company due to the coronavirus has caused immense financial and personal distress in virtually all industrial sectors. Millions of workers no longer have jobs as their employers closed up their business before its staff could transmit the virus. For many companies, that stress will be ongoing until society contains the spread of the virus, a valid vaccine is issued, or both.

 

At the same time, millions of others have also remained on the job, continuing their daily work despite the virus that permeates their community. Some fortunate employees can work from home, where they can stay both productive and safe. However, the nature of work of others exposes them to risks that did not exist before the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these 'essential' workers must continue clocking in, knowing that the style of their work or the people they serve might make them vulnerable to catching the coronavirus themselves. For these employees, the question of whether they can file a Workers’ Compensation (WC) claim because they got infected on the job remains unresolved.

 

When Not Working is Not an Option

'Essential' businesses provide or maintain the country's fundamental infrastructure: its food supply, energy supply, healthcare services, and more. Without them, other essential workers who are actively battling the virus would have no resources available to sustain their effort.

 

From a WC perspective, however, these essential workers are regularly exposed to the virus while at work. Their employers are rightfully nervous about a variety of possible scenarios:

 

The challenge is heightened by the fact that liability issues may arise if WC coverage is not available. COVID-19 has created a nightmare scenario for both workers and employers, where neither group has an assurance that the systems they have in place will protect them if they are affected by the virus.

 

WC Standards Also Cause Confusion

Fundamental realities of settled WC law may or may not apply to COVID-19 cases, but they will certainly pose a hurdle to those who want to resolve these claims expeditiously.

 

At first blush, several initial questions come to mind:

 

Monitoring Medicare Concerns

Employers who have employees who are (or soon will be) eligible for Medicare, or who already have a Medicare Set Aside (MSA) account should be very attentive to those life circumstances while the pandemic remains extreme. In many cases, these workers are members of vulnerable populations due to their age, ethnicity, etc., and a coronavirus infection could prove fatal to them.

 

Both situations raise questions about how the healthcare system will engage with those workers if they become sick with COVID because of their job. They will also muddy the legal water around the extent of the employer's mandate to cover the cost of work-related injuries or illness when those injuries occur due to a COVID-19 infection.

 

Eligible or Soon to be:

Workers who are moving onto the radar of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) because of their age or disability status must be conscientious about how they manage and record their risk of exposure to the virus. Most, if not all, of this population group will already have some form of pre-existing condition that will be covered by CMS funds once they begin drawing from their Medicare healthcare account. Assuming the worker can prove they became COVID positive while in the course of their employment, they'll also need to specifically parse out the healthcare services received in response to that illness and attribute those costs to the WC funder. It's crucial that they don't bill CMS for those expenses. They should also note that the COVID-19 disease may exacerbate their pre-existing conditions, which may require long-term WC coverage through an MSA to cover the expenditures flowing from that element of their recovery.

 

Workers with Existing MSAs

These workers have an established MSA account for a previous on-the-job injury, and the care they receive for that should not be affected by the fact that they've contracted COVID-19. However, they should note that many healthcare facilities are overwhelmed by treating COVID cases, so their ongoing treatments may be delayed or postponed until after the pandemic subsides.

 

This situation also raises the question of what would happen if the worker caught COVID on the job, got sick, and developed permanent damage requiring long-term medical services. Would that worker need to pursue an independent MSA to cover those costs? Could they add those costs to their existing MSA and have the WC carrier increase that fund value?

 

Again, careful diligence about recording healthcare practices and adverse symptoms by both eligible and existing Medicare recipients will help them determine how contracting the virus at work will affect their Medicare or Medicaid funding in the future.

 

Conclusion

This coronavirus is changing virtually all aspects of American life, including how workers receive care for on-the-job injuries or illnesses. The patchwork of state-by-state WC laws will enhance the confusion as those industry stakeholders struggle to comply with both their local and federal regulations around WC injuries and healthcare services. One thing is certain, however: the COVID-19 pandemic will cause not only millions of illnesses but also changes to long-settled WC laws as employers, employees, insurers, and government work to 'standardize' an unmanageable situation.

CMS is Hard at Work in Summer 2020

Incoming Changes to WCMSA Activities

Even in the face of the health and civic challenges the country is enduring, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) maintains its pursuit its institutional goal of keeping its constituents current with evolving standards. Recently, the CMS issued two new directives, one for MSA calculations and one for improved MSPRP portal functionality, which became or will become operable on April 25 and July 13 of this year, respectively. Readers are encouraged to update their practices and policies to reflect the changes.

 

New 'Life Table' for MSA Life Expectancy Estimates

On April 25, the Agency switched over to using the 2017 version of the United States Life Tables for calculating life expectancies, as the National Vital Statistics Report publishes those. The 2017 table replaces the 2016 schedule, which has been in official use just since October 12, 2019. The newer version, reflected in Manual Version 3.1 released May 11, 2020, reflects the differences in life expectancies revealed by 2017's final mortality data.

 

The CMS uses life expectancy tables for many reasons, only one of which is to calculate an estimated term for the duration of a Medicare Set-Aside Account (MSA). The life expectancies' statistical values provide guidance for MSA participants to determine the number of years and the projected value of costs to include in the overall calculation of the MSA financial reserve.

 

Many Uses for Life expectancy Data

The availability of an MSA is an enticing option for anyone who suffers a debilitating injury that will impede their earning capacity for their foreseeable future. The account will ensure that the costs incurred because of those injuries will be paid for by the entity legally responsible for making those payments. Only a small percentage of Medicare-eligible or recipient people will suffer injuries that will require the establishment of a life-long MSA. At this time, only those injured on the job and who have Workers’ Compensation claims are specifically identified as appropriate candidates for an MSA. However, CMS has recently been considering also adding cases involving injuries legally caused by neglect or intention (claims arising from 'liability' cases) to their roster of 'encouraged' MSA candidates.

 

But, as an agency, CMS also has an interest in establishing an MSA for any person who may need long-term funding for injuries AND who is also Medicare-eligible or will be eligible for Medicare within two years. By law, CMS is responsible for funding healthcare costs for millions of current and future Medicare beneficiaries. The Agency must manage the funding received for that purpose to allow for comprehensive coverage as its recipients need it, and that pool of beneficiaries is growing as the general population ages. Also, by law, however, CMS is NOT responsible for covering healthcare costs for injuries or damages caused by a third-party, such as injuries that occur in a job-related accident or car crash. Any healthcare costs attributable to those injuries must be paid for by the legally responsible entity. To establish an MSA for any reason, the claimants must clarify which entities are responsible for covering costs of specific injuries or damages, to ensure that Medicare doesn't inadvertently pay for something that is rightly the responsibility of another person or company.

 

Data Reveals Significant Changes

CMS's capacity to properly manage Medicare payments is becoming more complex, too. In just the last ten years, the number of Medicare recipients has more than doubled, rising from 11.1 million in 2010 to over 24 million today. By 2060, the number of Americans aged 65 and over will grow by 23% (up from 16% in 2018). CMS will be responsible for funding the healthcare services for most, if not all, of them. During that same decade, as well, improved living standards and evolving healthcare capacities are also helping Americans live longer lives, and the healthcare funding supplied by CMS will have to cover those extended lifespans as well. Accordingly, when Medicare-eligible people or recipients are injured, their potential lifespan - the number of years they expect to live - becomes an integral factor in the calculation of their long-term healthcare costs.

 

According to the Vital Statistics Report, between 2016 and 2017, overall life expectancies declined by .1, from 78.7 years to 78.6 years, for whites in general (primarily white males) and non-Hispanic whites. It did not change for blacks, non-Hispanic blacks or Hispanic populations, however. MSA applications submitted on or after April 25, 2020, are required to be calculated per the new statistical measurement. Considering the size of the Medicare-eligible population, even small drops in lifespan can make a difference in long-term CMS funding decisions.

 

 

 

Making CMS Recovery Cases Easier to Manage

 

As readers know, CMS works hard to recover payments made on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries that should have been made by other parties or entities. The recovery of unnecessary fees is critical to the mission of CMS, which must limit its healthcare coverage payments only to legitimate Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, including those who have established a Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside Account (WCMSA). The CMS Benefits Coordination and Recovery Center (BCRC) will open a recovery case to retrieve funds when the Agency makes provider payments erroneously or as a conditional payment made before the establishment of legal liabilities.

 

To facilitate the recovery action, the BCRC provides an online portal - the Medicare Secondary Payer Recovery Portal (MSPRP) - through which third-parties and MSA case participants can communicate about recovery case data and details. Cases that originate through the BCRC and through the Commercial Repayment Center (CRC) can be managed through the portal. Users of the portal include claimants, their representatives, attorneys, insurers, beneficiaries, and recovery agents. The portal allows users to interact digitally with the Agency about the case, whether they're requesting updates, contesting claims, or signaling that a resolution has been reached, among many other actions.

 

In recovery cases, the Agency has begun proceedings to retrieve reimbursement of previously made payments from the claimant or party that is ultimately responsible for paying an obligation. To maintain current recovery-related communications among the parties and with CMS, users can access the portal to retrieve files needed to support their claims or record their activities. The recovery case file is organized around the various actions taken by both the Agency and case parties and includes tabs related to:

The portal helps users find the information they need to respond to, defend, and resolve the recovery case.

 

Currently, however, the portal isn’t particularly user-friendly. Users haven't been able to view or print documents contained in the Letter Activity tab, which has hindered their capacity to maintain a complete file of documents issued by the Agency, or track case developments. CMS has recently remedied that situation, however, and, as of July 13, 2020, users who access the site through double authentication procedures will be able to both view and print the documents they seek through the portal's Letter Activity tab.

 

The Letter Activity tab is rife with crucial case data because it contains all the documents generated by the Agency concerning the claim. Maintained chronologically, each record sets out information about the status of issues arising within the materials, including the opening date of the document, its closing date, and a sent date if the Agency moved the matter onto another agent or office.

 

Accessing the portal to view and print documents gives users better control over the information they need, so there is no longer any confusion about the opinion or standing of the CMS at any point within the recovery case. The CMS issued version 4.8 of the MSPRP User Guide on March 30, 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COVID-19 and the Evolving Landscape of WC Litigation

For America’s employers, the COVID situation is creating havoc. Those who have shuttered their businesses for the duration of the crisis may not be able to open again once it subsides. Those who are open, however, especially those that offer essential services like grocery stores, are finding themselves facing workers’ compensation (WC) concerns that are unique to this pandemic. These businesses are already facing the challenges that typically arise from public crises and their subsequent recessions. Now, they must also navigate the new world of work-related injuries and illnesses directly related to the COVID-19 virus itself.

 

Nowhere is that concern more significant than in those companies whose workers are on the front lines of the challenge.

 

Healthcare Organizations

The healthcare industry, as a whole, is reeling from the effects of managing the virus. Not enough supplies and too many patients have overwhelmed entire healthcare systems. As the pandemic evolves, healthcare workers themselves are contracting the disease caused by the virus, which reduces the number of people who work in the clinics and wards. Further, the virus is not only impacting the capacity of the medical professionals, but it is also compromising the capacities of lateral and support services upon which they rely, such as lab services, clinic technicians, and even the janitorial crews. Employees working in a healthcare setting or with healthcare professionals are exposed to a heightened risk of being infected with the virus.

 

First Responders

Community services providers aren't immune from the concern, either. Firefighters, ambulance personnel, and distributed healthcare clinic workers, as well as the staff who work with them, are also exposed to the virus through their work. Frequently the first on the scene of a healthcare crisis, these workers face any number of threats posed by the environments in which they find their patients, in addition to the threat posed by the virus, all of which increase the likelihood that they will suffer an injury or illness while on the job.

 

Essential Services Personnel

Services deemed 'essential' are those that provide the goods and services people need simply to survive even when there isn't a viral threat in the air. Grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, and the like provide vital supplies that keep communities functioning. However, every day, their workers face health threats posed by shoppers who are infectious but not yet symptomatic, a circumstance that is unique to COVID-19. Without knowing they are infected, these workers can infect their coworkers and customers for days before they become symptomatic themselves.

 

The organizations and businesses that employ these vital workers must now attempt to prevent the virus from causing illness or injuries in their workplace. The fact that there is still much that is unknown about the virus and few proven resources available to avoid or combat it makes their jobs that much more difficult.

 

Consequently, today's employers are not just facing increased WC and SSDI claims due to the unemploymentcaused by the coronavirus, but they are also facing a new wave of a different type of WC created by the health threats caused by the virus.

 

COVID Will Change WC Litigation

The unique and evolving constellation of symptoms and conditions caused by the virus are not just confusing medical personnel, however. Legally, there are new challenges presented by the virus that have never before been seen by the WC and legal systems. As cases flowing from these issues mature and claimants seek support as they recover, their claims will most likely change how work-related COVID cases - and cases originating from the pandemic itself - are managed in the legal setting.

 

Legal Cause Concerns

One fundamental legal mandate will trigger much of the incoming legal deluge: proving 'cause.' The legal system flows from a simple relationship: cause and effect. Lawyers must identify the cause of a legal issue and connect the damage that it creates (its effect) directly with the entity presumed responsible for the action or situation where the injury or damage occurred. Defenses to the 'cause' element center on two possible options: nothing the defendant did (or did not do) caused the injury, and/or the claimant themself contributed to the cause of their own damages.

 

COVID cases confound this fundamental legal concept because, in many cases, there's no way to prove with certainty that any one location or exposure 'caused' the transmission of the virus. Yes, healthcare personnel are more likely to contract the virus because of their exposure to it through their occupation or workplace. However, science has determined that asymptomatic people are spreading the disease - people who show no evidence of being sick. So, while, yes, healthcare workers are more likely to contract the disease at their workplace, they also live in a community where the virus is active. These workers are also susceptible to contracting the virus through their interactions at home, while at their grocery store, or any place where they may come in contact with an asymptomatic person.

 

The virus's capacity to spread via non-symptomatic people makes it extremely difficult to assign 'cause' to one specific entity or location. This challenge to proving 'cause' poses new questions to all parties to a WC case:

 

Legislative Changes

As if the legal challenges aren't tricky enough, WC cases will also face challenges posed by the increased flood of local, regional, and national legislative efforts to stem the spread and contain the damages caused by the virus. Every state has been scrambling to manage their specific COVID crisis, with many passing laws and emergency regulations on a weekly (or sometimes daily) basis.

 

However, these short-term legislative fixes address only the crisis of the day. In many (if not most) cases, their potential long-term impacts have not been fully vetted, and those who act in accordance with the new rule may create additional challenges and liabilities in the future.

 

These issues and more will be the subjects of an increasing number of litigations as future lawsuits and WC claims are processed in the coming months and years.

 

 

MSA Litigations May Also Increase

Increasing numbers of COVID-related WC claims will almost certainly prompt a rise in MSA applications, as claimants seek as much coverage as possible for future services related to their COVID injuries. In these cases, it will be even more important to consider the interests of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) when crafting those MSA documents. As the Mandatory Secondary Payor, CMS is not authorized to spend Medicare resources on health conditions caused by or the responsibility of a third party. The 'COVID cause' concern will pose challenges in these cases, too, if there is an insufficient declaration of cause in the MSA application.

 

(On a side note, the COVID crisis may also trigger a rise in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims, too. The number of those cases also rises in the aftermath of a societal crisis. These SSDI claims will also be plagued by the 'COVID cause' challenge insofar as science has yet to determine if the virus can cause permanent disabilities as well as as-yet-undiscovered injuries and illnesses.)

 

The COVID-19 virus has already caused countless job-related injuries and illnesses in businesses and industries across the country. It is on track to generate thousands more before healthcare and scientific resources can fully contain it. Even without the myriad of legal challenges it is engendering, the related WC claims it will generate will also trigger the demand by both injured parties and the CMS to develop comprehensive MSA applications to manage the costs of covering those injuries. As the country works through both the pandemic and its ensuing recession, the coronavirus of 2019-2020 will almost certainly restructure how America's workers' compensation and Medicare Set Aside sectors operate in the future.

 

The Effect of COVID-19 on WC and MSAs

Even before the COVID-19 virus situation was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), world events indicated that a future recession was possible. Now that we are living amidst the full force of the COVID-19 effect, it seems like a recession is inevitable. Further, the high numbers of newly unemployed workers and shuttered businesses indicate that any recession that might emerge during the pandemic will be more severe than it would have been without the virus surfacing. The whole situation makes it difficult for business leaders to know what to expect once the COVID threat subsides. However, there are lessons to be insights to be gained for those who take the time to evaluate how the global community experienced and managed past recessions.

 

Swift, Massive and Unrelenting

The origins of the onset of the pandemic remain unclear; scientists only recently learned that the first two American deaths attributable to the virus (on February 6 and 17, respectively) occurred well before the first reported such death (February 29). If confirmed, it means that the coronavirus has been in the U.S. longer than previously believed and that its spread is wider than previously asserted. That assertion would help to explain the astonishing speed with which the virus overtook many U.S. cities and communities. As of this posting, the number of reported cases in the country tops 850,000, and the number of deaths caused by the virus is over 50,000, all having occurred in less than three months.

 

The earlier transmission date of early February also indicates that more people have probably contracted the coronavirus or are at risk of suffering from it than was previously thought. Making the situation worse is the vast array of unknowns still surrounding the disease, its spread, its treatment, and its actual toll. Without a clear idea of where the virus is spreading or what methods are truly containing it, government leaders can't re-open their communities for fear of triggering an even larger pandemic much closer to home.

 

Early Responses Also Cause Chaos

The most comprehensive response to the virus (so far) has been to order people to remain 'safer at home' to stop unintended viral transmissions through inadvertent social contact. The mandate became necessary in early 'hot spot' locations, including cities in Northern Italy, across Europe, San Francisco, and New York City. In those situations, the calamitous rise in the volume of critically ill patients quickly consumed all available medical resources, which, in turn, lead to more deaths because there were no resources left available to treat those later arriving patients. To prevent this situation in areas where the rise in case numbers was slower, many communities around the globe elected to tell their constituents sooner rather than later to stay home so that they did not face the unacceptable risk posed by a lack of sufficient medical interventions.

 

The consequence of the 'safer at home' mandate is that millions of people are now quarantined in their homes, unable to leave except for 'essential' reasons such as grocery shopping or if their work requires them to be out. Those who can work from home are now doing so. For the millions who can't, the stay-at-home mandate also means the loss of their job.

 

In the U.S., some 26,000,000 people have filed for UI (UI) as of late April, as the shops, restaurants, and services companies that employed them were forced to close their doors. Too many of those workers were existing on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis, meaning they don't have the resources they need to sustain their living situation while the pandemic runs its course. The UI funds will allow them to pay their rent and buy food until the situation lightens, their previous jobs become available again, or they can find another line of work.  Unfortunately, for many of them, the old job will be forever gone, and there will be no other resource available to assist them after they exhaust their short-term unemployment benefits.

 

For workers already suffering from a work-related injury or disability, the current crisis is creating an even more dire situation. Workers who are currently unemployed or receiving disability coverage because of an on-the-job event have been working to regain their health and capacity to return to their occupation. With so many healthy workers now available to take that job as soon as it becomes available again, these workers now find themselves essentially 'unemployable.' Even when they are strong enough to return to the workforce, the current situation indicates that there will be no jobs available for them to take. What will they do when that day comes?

 

The analysis of events that occurred after previous recessions and economic downturns suggests that many of today's unemployed workers will file worker's compensation (WC) claims or, if appropriate, social security disability claims (SSDI) to fill the void created by no job and exhausted UI benefits. Further, that research also shows that an increase in both WC and SSDI claims often also leads to an increase in requests for Medicare Set Aside accounts.

 

The Past Informs the Present

It's always helpful to look at relevant past events to make sense of current happenings. The economic crisis generated by today's COVID-19 pandemic is certainly similar to the housing crisis that caused the 2007-2009 Great Recession, so social responses to that situation can provide insights and direction for today's business leaders.

 

The message in brief: expect an influx of both UI and SSDI claims, as well as a swell of MSA applications. Data gathered over time reveals that the number of both UI and SSDI claims rose during the last seven recessionary periods, all of which occurred during the past five decades. Simply put, people who can't find work will seek alternative resources to fill that economic void. That pivot away from a work search to alternative financial supports usually takes them to either WC or SSDI options, and, in both cases, the opportunities to file an MSA application grow.

 

Newly Unemployed Workers:

Many employees will continue to work through an on-the-job injury if they can, prefering to retain their incomes even if that means slowing their recovery. These now unemployed workers may not be able to return to their old jobs, nor are they likely to find new work as stronger, healthier competitors vie for what is sure to be a limited opportunity for employment post-pandemic. These former employees may turn to WC resources as an alternative to returning to their old job or looking in vain to find a new one. They may also see the value of establishing an MSA within the case to ensure their health needs are covered regardless of the state of the future global economy

 

SSDI Recipients

In a similar vein, workers who are already collecting SSDI benefits may find themselves also blanked out of any work they might have taken or returned to as healthier applicants compete against them for that work.

Further, many of them may now also qualify for an MSA if they've been on SSDI for more than two years. This option is available regardless of their age. In 2008, the number of displaced workers who applied for SSDI benefits topped 2.3 million, which was the record at that time.

 

Research conducted after the Great Recession receded confirmed that many workers who struggled through that event filed either or both WC and SSDI claims to replace lost wages and healthcare coverage. The population receiving federal disability benefits grew from 7.6 million in 2009 to 8.9 in 2013 because their combined health and employment challenges provided the opportunity to access these resources rather than attempt to return to work. And    F    subsequent research indicates that 'most' Medicare MSA claimants are eligible because they have been on SSDI for the requisite two years, and not because of their chronological age.

 

Impact on CMS

This research suggests that many of today's unemployed workers will be turning to both UI and SSDI for alternative financial support during and after this pandemic. That influx of cases will significantly increase the already high demands being made on UI and SSDI providers, as well as on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Making things worse for CMS: the Agency is already facing massive budget challenges as the number of workers who continue to pay into the system is shrinking while the number of those taking resources out of it is rising.

 

These unique and difficult challenges suggest that, as a response to heightened demand and reduced resources, the Agency will also become significantly more stringent regarding MSA compliance practices. Its efforts to enforcing the Mandatory Secondary Payor Act will almost certainly require more stringent attention to detail in every MSA case to prevent CMS from shouldering any inappropriate economic burdens that belong to other entities.

Making the Most of an MSA Amended Review Request

In 2017, when the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) updated its Medicare Set Aside (MSA) Reference Guide, it added a provision that allowed a one-time opportunity to request an ‘amended review' of a conditionally preapproved MSA account. When a case met the required elements of the new rule, claimants and carriers could re-submit their MSA proposal based on evidence of circumstances that came to light after the initial submission was approved. Over the following three years, experience with the amended review process has provided insights into CMS decision-making, as well as illustrated when making such a request is advantageous to each side of an MSA case.

 

Clarifying "Re-review" vs. "Amended Review"

CMS is offering the new amended review opportunity in addition to the already standard 're-review' of an approved MSA agreement.

 

Re-review

The opportunity to request a re-review of an approved MSA has always been part of the MSA process. WCMSA Reference Guide v3.0 §16.1. It applies when there is an 'obvious error' in the calculation of the value or documentation of the MSA case that changes the value of the MSA account, and that the parties discovered the error only after approval of the MSA application. The reviewed submission will correct the mistake(s). In a re-review case, the underlying facts of the case don't change and the corrected file assures CMS of the protection of its interests as a secondary payer within the case.

 

Amended Review

The opportunity for an amended review arises when the facts of the case have changed, and those changes now alter the value of the MSA allocation by at least 10% or $10,000. WCMSA Reference Guide v3.0 §16.2.Parties can only request the review when their Workers’ Compensation case (WC) has not settled but continues in litigation for more than 12 months (one year) and less than 72 months (six years) after approval of the original MSA. (In October 2019, CMS extended the time window for submitting a request from four years (48 months) to the new six-year standard.)

 

The amended approval opportunity aligns the CMS with several state laws that allow for re-opening the WC case in the event relevant health and healthcare care conditions change after that case has closed. While that opportunity provides for changes to the WC case itself, there was no such opportunity available to make consequent changes to the attendant MSA, when such an account was open. With this new CMS provision, plaintiffs and defendants can modify their MSA agreement to reflect the altered facts of the WC case.

 

Possible Outcomes of an Amended Review

The amended review process facilitates two equal goals: to protect CMS from paying for services that are rightly assignable to the primary payer, and to assist in the resolution and closure of long-term legal cases. It reflects the reality that circumstances change over time, and that 'final resolutions' must also often be fluid. The amended review process allows CMS to take into account those relevant MSA case factors that emerged after the MSA proposal was initially approved and that now might materially change its outcome.

 

Protecting CMS

Per the Mandatory Secondary Payer Act (MSP), CMS is liable for the healthcare costs of injured beneficiaries (or soon-to-be beneficiaries) only after all other 'primary' resources are exhausted. In the case of most MSAs, the MSA document itself clearly defines the obligations of a primary health care resource to an injured worker, and settled medical practices provide the guides needed to establish those medical cost parameters. CMS can sign off on the MSA proposal because it is assured that the primary payers are accepting and will follow through with their obligation to cover the short-, mid-, and long-term costs of the specific injury.

 

In those cases that suggest an amendment is in order, the circumstances of the case will have changed, and CMS is no longer confident that it will not be asked in the future to cover costs arising from the work-place injury. In these cases, the total value of the MSA may need adjustment for one of two reasons if or when the claimant's health care needs change:

 

Protecting Case Participants

A qualifying factor for filing an amended review request is that the case hasn't settled. In many, and perhaps most of these cases, that failure is caused by disputes related to the type and value of future medical care and costs.

 

Proving an Amended Review Claim

Not surprisingly, convincing the CMS to change an already approved MSA requires substantial and credible evidence that the change is warranted. The Agency looks for 'best evidence' - those documents and records that come from an original source and that are clearly and directly related to injury care. Further, those records must prove that the initial MSA value is now off by 10% or $10,000, whichever is greater. The injured worker must prove that current circumstances justify an increased MSA value by at least 10% or $10,000; the employer/insurer must prove that current medical interventions can reduce the actual cost of care (as opposed to the approved funds set aside) for the injury by at least 10% or $10,000.

 

The Agency is also specific about what types of evidence can prove the adjusted claim and how to document that evidence properly:

 

A Prescription Drug Caution

Every requested modification of the original MSA must justify how any proposed change relates to the injury and the care and recovery of the injured worker. For prescription drugs, a difference in price in and of itself is not sufficient to justify changing the MSA, although that may be significant when a generic drug becomes available. Instead, the party seeking the change must establish that the revised pharmaceutical request addresses the medication recommendations for the specific injury, and that it meets the standards otherwise set for MSA inclusion:

 

Documents supporting these claims include drug prescription and medical treatment payment records dated within six months of the request, the insurer's prescription claim records, and the pharmacy benefits manager records.

 

For amended review requests that seek to reduce or increase the projected value of prescription drugs, parties filing the claim should detail the injured person's experience with the drugs correctly and make a direct connection between the use of the drug and the work-related injury.

 

The amended review opportunity provides an avenue for re-assessment for injured workers and their insurers when the case resolution details of the underlying WC case change. When handled correctly, the amended review action can ensure that injured workers retain the long-term healthcare services they need, or that insurers can recoup the MSA funds that are no longer necessary for future injury care. Considering the speed by which new medical capacities and capabilities are advancing, it’s probable that the amended review process will be pursued more frequently in the years to come.

Protect the Future with an MSA

In the Workers’ Compensation (WC) world, evaluating the appropriateness of a Medicare Set Aside account (MSA) is (or should be) a standard case management practice for any person with a work-related injury who is nearing or over the age of Medicare or Medicaid eligibility. However, because setting up the MSA in a WC case remains optional per Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS) regulations, many injured workers and their work- or insurer-based case managers elect not to submit an MSA proposal to CMS. Instead, after filing the requisite notice to CMS that a Medicare-eligible person suffered an injury at work, they then resolve the case without further consideration of the interests of that federal agency. Their failure to include CMS in those deliberations, however, may lay the foundation for significant barriers for the injured person in the future.

 

The MSA as a Case Marker

The primary reason for the Mandatory Secondary Payor Act is to prohibit the use of Medicare funds for medical expenses when another legally obligated person or party should bear those costs. For this reason, CMS requires WC insurers to notify it when an injured worker is also a current or soon-to-be Medicare recipient. On its end, the CMS creates a file for every injured Medicare recipient (or soon-to-be) who is or will receive payments from a group health insurer, including WC insurers. Using the resulting database, CMS can determine the primary versus secondary payer responsibilities of its beneficiaries and ensure that it is not making payments that are the obligations of those primary carriers. Once it receives the notification of this particular injury, the CMS file can reflect that their current or future beneficiary has/had an injury that is/was being managed by an appropriate third-party obligor.

 

Unfortunately, after the notification, there's no requirement to do more regarding the CMS, and many WC claimants don't follow up their CMS notification by also submitting an MSA proposal or otherwise reporting the circumstances of the conclusion of the case. This oversight leaves a significant gap in the CMS file since that agency now has only half a record of the injury in its archives, but no history of the resolution of that claim. And it's in that gap that so many problems can fester.

 

From Half a Claim to Legal Morass

From a legal perspective, that incomplete CMS file can trigger numerous challenges:

 

However, as the case evolves, the evidence may reveal that some of the injuries noted are not actually attributable to the work-based incident but instead may be pre-existing or due to some other cause. The WC carrier may appropriately decline to cover those costs, so they are not included in the final settlement negotiations, nor are they covered by the MSA. The CMS file, however, retains that code as attributable to the WC injury, which can lead to CMS declining to cover its care, thereby leaving the claimant/beneficiary with no coverage by either the CMS or its WC insurer.

 

Other challenges can also arise when the CMS file is left incomplete.

 

Submitting an MSA proposal and including CMS in the WC case can alleviate these challenges.

 

More Than a Bank Account

 

Establishing an MSA is much more than just the negotiation of a settlement figure and the opening of a trust account. The process of creating an MSA provides a host of benefits for the claimant and parties to the case, both immediate and future:

 

In the Near-term:

The process of creating an MSA proposal generates a wealth of data for everyone involved in the case. The analysis of the injury, its physical manifestation, its medical intervention requirements, and the cost for long-term recovery all provide information that will inform the legal management of the case. With this data, the parties to the case gain the knowledge they need to come to a reasonable resolution:

 

 

In the Long-term:

After the case closes, the parties can move on to other projects, knowing that the WC case is behind them:

 

But Claimants now also have the added benefit of a clear record with CMS, which may prove essential for their future well-being. Why? Because, as Medicare recipients, they are aging, and that circumstance escalates the value of CMS to their future.

 

Medicare and the Aging Population

By definition, Medicare recipients are at or over the age of 65, and that population is growing. According to the US Census Bureau, the population of people 65 and over  grew by 15.1 percent in the ten years between 2000 and 2010, outpacing the growth of the population in general. This year, the number of 65+ citizens should hit 55 million and, by 2030, is estimated to grow to 70 million. It will stress the funding for Medicare to service that further growth, so it is expected that the CMS will be more stringent than ever that primary payments be exhausted before an injured person seeks financial support from it as the secondary payer.

 

And that growing population also grows bigger concerns. With every passing year, the risk of developing a disease or incurring another injury rises for each senior. Declining eyesight, hearing loss, and slower reflexes can all contribute to declining health or reduced capacities. High blood pressure, diabetes, compromised pulmonary systems and similar conditions can cause a variety of symptoms, and many medications can cause physiological challenges even if the underlying condition for which they were prescribed doesn't.

 

Further, while many diseases and conditions related to aging can also increase the risk of injuries, many otherwise healthy seniors will suffer a serious injury simply by falling in their home or community. According to reports by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), falls are the number one reason for fatal injuries in people over 65 years and they are the most common reason for nonfatal traumatic hospital admissions. Additionally, 25% of all Americans over 65 fall each year, resulting in more than 2.5 million trips to the emergency room, over 800,000 hospital stays, and 27,000 deaths.

 

Often when a fall occurs in this population, in many cases, Medicare is the only available option for health care services for these seniors. An insufficient case file at CMS that fails to provide information on the resolution of previous injuries could delay receiving care for an instant concern, which can also cause complications in getting help in a timely way. That confusion can also cause the denial of the new claim, which could trigger a drawn-out battle to clarify actual eligibility for new resources. Considering that 10% of all falls in seniors cause major injuries, even a slight delay in getting care could be disastrous for the aging patient.

 

 

How Does a Current MSA Alleviate Future Concerns?

The MSA clarifies for the CMS file what those previous injuries were and how they occurred, the details of the managed treatment plan, and who paid for those services. It also encapsulates the circumstances of that injury to that resolved case and reduces the likelihood that CMS will require information about that case before authorizing resources for the current concern. Not least significant, by submitting and gaining acceptance of an MSA in a WC case, the claimant's future file with the CMS is transparent as to prior injuries so that they are eligible to receive timely and appropriate care when future injuries occur.

 

To date, there is no requirement to submit an MSA proposal to CMS prior to resolving a WC case. However, considering the future challenges posed by failing to do so, it seems prudent and a best practice to develop and file one in every WC case with an injured Medicare (or soon-to-be) recipient.  Not only will the process clarify the specifics of that injury, but the MSA itself will protect the worker's opportunity to receive Medicare benefits for future injuries.