Justia Public Benefits Opinion Summaries

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Four consolidated appeals presented a question of whether medical providers who provided services under California’s Medi-Cal program were entitled to reimbursement for the costs of providing in-house medical services for their own employees through “nonqualifying” self-insurance programs. Even for nonqualifying self-insurance programs, however, the Provider Reimbursement Manual allowed providers to claim reimbursement for reasonable costs on a “claim-paid” basis. Oak Valley Hospital District (Oak Valley) and Ridgecrest Regional Hospital (Ridgecrest) had self-insurance programs providing health benefits to their employees. Claims for in-house medical services to their employees were included in cost reports submitted to the State Department of Health Care Services (DHS). DHS allowed the costs when Oak Valley and Ridgecrest employees received medical services from outside providers but denied costs when the medical services were provided in-house. DHS determined claims paid to Oak Valley and Ridgecrest out of their self-insurance plan for in-house medical services rendered to their employees were not allowable costs. The trial court granted Oak Valley and Ridgecrest's the writ petitions on grounds that costs of in-house medical services were reimbursable so long as they were “ ‘reasonable’ ” as defined by the Provider Reimbursement Manual. DHS appealed in each case. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded Oak Valley’s and Ridgecrest’s self-insurance programs did not meet the requirements of a qualified plan under CMS guidelines and Provider Reimbursement Manual. The Court of Appeal rejected DHS’s contention that Oak Valley and Ridgecrest costs relating to in-house medical services for their employees were inherently unreasonable. To the extent DHS argued the cost reports were not per se unreasonable, but unreasonable under the circumstances of the actual treatments of Oak Valley and Ridgecrest employees, the Court determined the evidence in the record supports the trial court’s findings that expert testimony established Oak Valley and Ridgecrest incurred actual expenses in providing in-house medical services for their employees that were not otherwise reimbursed. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court’s granting of the petitions for writs of administrative mandate. View "Oak Valley Hospital Dist. v. Cal. Dept. of Health Care Services" on Justia Law

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In 1983, Rice sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA), 30 U.S.C. 901–45. The Department of Labor (DOL) looks to employers that employed the miner for at least one year and are capable of paying benefits. The miner’s most recent employer that meets these requirements is the “responsible operator.” Employers must either qualify as a self-insurer or purchase BLBA insurance. KRCC operated a coal mine where Rice worked in 1982-1983 but he was employed by a separate corporate entity, KRMS, which charged KRCC for the cost of Rice’s labor. The entities' ownership and management overlapped; KRMS had no assets and operated out of KRCC's offices. KRCC obtained BLBA coverage from Bituminous Casualty but only listed 10 employees. The other 150 were employed by KRMS. An ALJ identified KRMS as the responsible operator, then denied Rice’s claim on the merits. Rice appealed; KRCC and Bituminous successfully moved to be dismissed from the case, because the ALJ identified KRMS as the responsible operator.In 2002, Rice filed another BLBA claim. DOL again notified KRCC and Bituminous that KRCC might be the responsible operator. Bituminous claims it “denied coverage based on the fraudulent arrangements” between KRCC and KRMS. DOL refused to dismiss Bituminous.The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that DOL was collaterally estopped from finding that KRCC was the responsible operator; that Bituminous was entitled to rescind its insurance agreement based on fraud by KRCC; and that delays in DOL administrative proceedings violated its right to due process. View "Karst Robbins Coal Co. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs" on Justia Law

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Vaughn, a quadriplegic, has received home‐based care for over 30 years. She requires help with personal care, household maintenance, mobility exercises, transportation, medications, suctioning secretions from her tracheostomy, and use of the ventilator. When nursing shifts cannot be staffed, Vaughn has relied on friends. Indiana funded her care through two federally-reimbursed Medicaid programs: A&D waiver and core Medicaid. Vaughn could select her own caregivers to receive A&D waiver funds but could not personally direct nursing care funded through core Medicaid. In 2016, Vaughn was hospitalized with pneumonia. She was cleared to be discharged but the state could not find nurses to provide round‐the‐clock care at home at Medicaid rates Vaughn was transferred to a nursing home and filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12132; the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794; and the Medicaid Act, 42 U.S.C. 1396a(a)(8). The court granted Vaughn summary judgment with an injunction requiring the state to “do whatever is necessary to achieve” round‐the‐clock home‐based care, fully paid for by the state.The Seventh Circuit vacated. Vaughn is not entitled to the services she has requested under Indiana’s version of the Medicaid program, as the program was structured before the state adopted a new pilot program. The state is not obligated to reimburse Vaughn’s providers at rates above the approved Medicaid caps, nor must it use funds outside the Medicaid program to comply with a rule about accommodation within the program. View "Vaughn v. Walthall" on Justia Law

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The Department of Health and Human Services disallowed roughly $30 million in Medicaid reimbursements for payments Virginia made to two state hospitals. HHS determined that Virginia had materially altered its payment methodology without notifying HHS or obtaining approval and that the new methodology resulted in payments that overstepped applicable federal limits. Virginia had allocated disproportionate share hospitals (DSH) payments for the two hospitals to fiscal years other than “the actual year in which [related] DSH costs were incurred” by those hospitals for purposes of complying with the annual statewide DSH allotment and hospital-specific limit. The district court and D.C. affirmed. A comparison between Virginia’s previous operation of its plan—as manifested in the state’s prior representations about the plan’s operation—and its later operation of the same plan shows that there was a “[m]aterial change” in “the State’s operation of the Medicaid program,” so that the state was required to amend its plan and present the amendment for approval, 42 C.F.R. 430.12(c)(1)(ii). View "Department of Medical Assistant Services of the Commonwealth of Virginia v. United States Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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Mitze unsuccessfully appealed the denial of her application for social security benefits. Several years later, Mitze moved to seal her medical information and all other information pertaining to her case, citing “harassing phone calls from solicitors” who knew her personal medical information because the courts had “publicized” it by issuing opinions. She claims that she and her children have experienced social stigma and that thieves broke into her home to steal pain medication, which publicly available documents revealed that she had been prescribed.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Mitze’s motion. A strong presumption exists in favor of publishing dispositional orders, even in cases involving substantial privacy interests such as state secrets, trade secrets, and attorney-client privilege. The court acknowledged that the existing remedies of proceeding anonymously, requesting redactions, or sealing records may be inadequate in the social security context. News outlets have the right to publish information obtained from public court records and cannot be ordered to remove articles reporting on the decisions in her case. The court rejected an argument under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, 42 U.S.C. 1320d-6, which regulates the disclosure of information by only healthcare providers and their affiliates. View "Mitze v. Saul" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's challenge to the Commissioner's denial of her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. The court held that substantial evidence supported the ALJ's determination concerning the limits of plaintiff's ability to reach and handle throughout an otherwise sedentary workday. In this case, one of the jobs cited by the vocational expert as available in the national economy—call out operator—requires only occasional, rather than frequent, handling. Therefore, the identified job is even less demanding on plaintiff's upper extremities than would be permitted by the Commissioner's residual functional capacity limitation. View "Lawrence v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Surprise injured a tendon in the middle finger of his right hand in 2009, resulting in two surgeries and several months of physical therapy. He initially experienced severe pain. Weeks later Surprise’s therapist noted that his pain had decreased significantly and that therapy was no longer necessary as he could open soda cans and use a coffee cup with his right hand. Surprise suffered a concussion, resulting in post-concussion syndrome, in a 2000 snowmobile accident. In 2009, a psychologist noted Surprise could not read well, could follow only a simple, three-step command, and had poor short-term memory and a limited knowledge base. Surprise also experiences depression and anxiety, although his doctors noted that medications kept these conditions under control. Surprise’s claim for disability insurance benefits and supplemental social security income was denied following a remand. Surprise argued that the ALJ failed to adequately account for a portion of the medical expert’s opinion in the hypothetical question posed to the vocational expert and that her decision violated the law of the case doctrine by failing to adopt the fine manipulation limitation the initial ALJ found in the course of his RFC assessment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Surprise did not identify any obvious conflict between the hypothetical question and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles nor did the district court make any factual findings that became the law of the case. View "Surprise v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Independent of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Minnesota has adopted an "open enrollment" process that allows a parent to enroll a student in a school outside of the student's local district.The Eighth Circuit held that the IDEA does not require a school district that enrolls a nonresident student like M.N.B. to provide transportation between the student's home and the school district where her parent has chosen to enroll her. The court saw nothing in the IDEA that provides clear notice to a state that it must cover transportation expenses when a student's travel is the result of a parent's choice under an open enrollment program. Therefore, under the circumstances presented here, the court concluded that the IDEA does not require the Osseo District to reimburse M.N.B.'s parent for the cost of transportation between her home and the border of the Osseo District. The court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of M.N.B. View "Osseo Area Schools v. M.N.B." on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's order affirming the denial of plaintiff's application for benefits under the Social Security Act. The court agreed with plaintiff that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's finding that plaintiff could perform a job that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. The court held that the vocational expert's testimony as to available jobs, on which the ALJ relied, was significantly and admittedly flawed.In this case, the vocational expert used the wrong Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) group code to determine whether there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that plaintiff could perform. Furthermore, even if the court overlooked this foundational problem, the numbers that the vocational expert cited from the wrong SOC group code substantially overstated the number of available bakery worker jobs that plaintiff could perform. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Goode v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

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On appeal from a federal appellate court's decision that the Federal Medicare scheme prohibits State Medicaid agencies, including MassHealth, from receiving funds from Medicare, the Supreme Judicial Court ordered that this case be remanded for modification of the declaratory judgment, holding that MassHealth demonstrated a sufficient change in circumstances to warrant modification to allow MassHealth to seek reimbursement where the liable third party is Medicare.In Atlanticare Medical Center v. Commissioner of the Division of Medical Assistance, 439 Mass. 1, 3, 5 (2003) (Altanticare I), the Supreme Judicial Court concluded that the Federal Medicaid scheme tasked the State Medicaid agency, not individual providers, with seeking reimbursement from liable third-party insurers, including Medicare. When the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) refused to issue reimbursements from Medicare to MassHealth, MassHealth brought suit. In 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that the Federal Medicare scheme prohibited MassHealth from receiving funds from Medicare. Therefore, a Federal Medicare regulation was amended to acknowledge the practice of State Medicaid agencies obtaining Medicare reimbursements through providers, rather than seeking such reimbursements directly from Medicare. MassHealth sought to modify the declaratory judgment and restore its ability to obtain reimbursements from providers, rather than liable third parties. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case for modification of the judgment, holding that changed circumstances required modification. View "Atlanticare Medical Center v. Division of Medical Assistance" on Justia Law