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:
- payment information,
- electronic payment histories,
- refund information,
- letter activities (mail),
- waivers, redemptions, and
- compromise information, and
- final conditional payment processes.
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.