Justia Public Benefits Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Brigance worked as a coal miner for 20 years, until he stopped working in 1994 because of shortness of breath, which prevented him from obtaining other employment. Brigance obtained Kentucky state black lung benefits, which expired after about eight years. Brigance sought federal benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act. An administrative law judge held that the claim was not barred by the Act’s three-year statute of limitations, 30 U.S.C. 932(f). The Benefits Review Board affirmed an award of benefits. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Brigance admitted that he had a medical determination of total disability (pneumoconiosis) seven years before filing his claim. View "Peabody Coal Co. v. Dir., Office of Workers' Comp." on Justia Law

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Dotson died in August 1998. An administrative law judge determined that his wife was entitled to survivor’s benefits under the 2010 Black Lung Amendments, Pub. Law 111-148, 1556(a)–(c). The Sixth Circuit denied the company’s petition for review of the Benefits Review Board decision. The company filed a petition for rehearing, arguing that its case involved an additional issue: whether an award of benefits should commence the month the miner died. The Sixth Circuit denied the petition. The regulation says: “Benefits are payable to a survivor who is entitled beginning with the month of the miner’s death, or January 1, 1974, whichever is later.” 20 C.F.R. 725.503(c). This language was clear before Congress enacted the Amendments, and, by its terms, the widow is entitled to benefits beginning with the month of the miner’s death: August 1998. Rejecting an argument concerning retroactive application, the court stated that “imposition of liability for the effects of disabilities bred in the past is justified as a rational measure to spread the costs of the employees’ disabilities to those who have profited from the fruits of their labor—the operators and the coal consumers.” View "McCoy Elkhorn Coal Corp. v. Dotson" on Justia Law

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Kentucky provided medical care to its poorest citizens through Medicaid (42 U.S.C. 1396-1) using a traditional fee-for-service model until 2011, when it transitioned to a managed-care program and awarded Coventry a contract to administer Medicaid services in southeastern Kentucky. Coventry entered into a temporary agreement with Appalachian, the dominant hospital care provider in that area, to provide members in-network hospital care and other services. Coventry soon realized it was losing money, partly because its network included Appalachian, whose patients, on average, were sicker and more expensive to treat. Coventry learned that its competitors were not required to contract with Appalachian and unsuccessfully sought an increase in payment rates. Coventry then noticed termination of Appalachian’s contract, which would have made thousands of Medicaid recipients unable to access healthcare providers at Appalachian’s facilities without first paying fees. Appalachian sued Coventry and state defendants. The district court required Coventry to keep Appalachian in its network for four months longer than the contract specified (until November 1, 2012) and denied Coventry’s motion to require Appalachian to post a security bond. The Sixth Circuit affirmed with respect to the bond and otherwise dismissed an appeal as moot because no recognized exception permits review of an expired injunction. View "Appalachian Reg'l Healthcare, Inc. v. Coventry Health & Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Under the Medicaid program, the federal government offsets some state expenses for medical services to low-income persons; a state’s plan must cover medical assistance for specific populations, but a state may expand its Medicaid program by obtaining a waiver for an “experimental, pilot, or demonstration project.” In 1993, Tennessee obtained a waiver for TennCare, to cover uninsured and uninsurable individuals. Following approval, hospitals received reimbursement under the umbrella of TennCare. Because hospitals serving large numbers of low-income patients generally incur higher costs than Medicaid flat payment rates reflect, hospitals that treated a disproportionate share of low-income patients could apply for the “DSH” adjustment. A fiscal intermediary processed requests for reimbursement, including DSH adjustment payments. Due to discrepancies between the practices of fiscal intermediaries in different states, the Secretary issued a 2000 rule, providing that eligibility waiver patients were to be included as individuals “eligible for medical assistance” under Medicaid for purposes of DSH adjustment calculations. The 2005 Deficit Reduction Act ratified the rule. Adventist, a not-for-profit hospital network, provided more than 1,200 patient care days to TennCare expansion waiver patients 1995-2000. The fiscal intermediary did not include those days in calculating the adjustment. The Secretary’s Provider Reimbursement Review Board upheld the exclusion. The district court dismissed, concluding that section 1315 provided the Secretary discretion to exclude expansion waiver patient days from the DSH calculation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Adventist Health Sys./Sunbelt, Inc. v. Sebelius" on Justia Law

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MedQuest is a diagnostic testing company that operates more than 90 testing facilities in 13 states. In 2006 a former MedQuest employee, brought a qui tam suit against MedQuest alleging violations of the False Claims Act. The United States intervened and obtained summary judgment ($11,110,662.71) that MedQuest used supervising physicians who had not been approved by the Medicare program and the local Medicare carrier to supervise the range of tests offered at the Nashville-area sites, and after acquiring one facility, MedQuest failed to properly re-register the facility to reflect the change in ownership and enroll the facility in the Medicare program, instead using the former owner’s payee ID number. The Sixth Circuit reversed, stating that the Medicare regulatory scheme (42 U.S.C. 1395x) does not support FCA liability for failure to comply with the supervising-physician regulations. MedQuest’s failure to satisfy enrollment regulations and its use of a billing number belonging to a physician’s practice it controlled do not trigger the hefty fines and penalties created by the FCA. View "United States v. MedQuest Assocs, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2004 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services promulgated 42 C.F.R. § 412.106(b), concerning the amount that certain hospitals are entitled to receive as enhancements to their regular reimbursement payments from the Medicare program. In connection with the Medicare program, Congress created a statutory formula to identify hospitals that serve a disproportionate number of low-income patients and to calculate the increased payments due such hospitals. Metropolitan Hospital challenged the way that the Secretary of HHS interprets this statutory formula to exclude certain patients who are simultaneously eligible for benefits under both Medicare and Medicaid, claiming that exclusion of dual-eligible patients cost it more than $2.1 million in 2005. The district court ruled that the challenged HHS regulation was invalid as violating the statute that it purported to implement. The Sixth Circuit reversed, upholding HHS’s interpretation of 42 U.S.C. 1395. View "Metro. Hosp. v. U.S. Dept of Health & Human Servs." on Justia Law

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In 1979, Plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, on behalf of present and future recipients, alleging that Tennessee’s Medicaid program violated federal requirements, 42 U.S.C. 1396, and the Due Process Clause. The decades that followed involved intervenors, consent orders, revisions, and creation of a subclass. In 1994, Tennessee converted to a managed care program, TennCare. In 1995, five class members filed motions alleging that TennCare was being administered inconsistent with a 1992 decree and federal law. In 2009, the district court awarded plaintiffs more than$2.57 million for fees and expenses leading up to a 2005 Revised Consent Decree. Plaintiffs had originally requested a lodestar amount of $3,313,458.00, but the court reduced the award by 20 percent on account of plaintiffs’ “limited” success relative to the breadth of defendants’ requests and the scope of the litigation. The court noted that there was “no dispute that Plaintiffs in this case are the prevailing party, and thus entitled to attorneys’ fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988.” The Sixth Circuit vacated parts of the award, noting that section 1988 “is not for the purpose of aiding lawyers and that the original petition for fees included requests for dry cleaning bills, mini blinds, and health insurance. View "Binta B. v. Gordon" on Justia Law

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Tennessee participates in Medicaid through “TennCare,” Tenn. Code 71-5-102. The Medicaid Act requires that TennCare administer an Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment program for all enrollees under age 21, 42 U.S.C. 1396a(a)(43), 1396d(r) and must provide outreach to educate its enrollees about these services. In 1998 plaintiffs filed a putative class action under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that TennCare had failed to fulfill these obligations. The district court entered a consent decree that explained in detail the requirements that TennCare had to meet to “achieve and maintain compliance” with the Medicaid Act, based on the assumption that the Act created rights enforceable under section 1983. Eight years later, the Sixth Circuit held that one part of the Medicaid Act was unenforceable under section 1983. Following a remand, the district court vacated paragraphs of the decree that were based on parts of the Act that are not privately enforceable. After a thorough review of TennCare’s efforts, the court then vacated the entire decree, finding that TennCare had fulfilled the terms of the decree’s sunset clause by reaching a screening percentage greater than 80% and by achieving current, substantial compliance with the rest of the decree. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "John B. v.Emkes" on Justia Law

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Gayheart applied for Social Security disability insurance benefits in 2005 due to manifestations of anxiety, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, and depression. After an initial denial and three separate hearings, an administrative law judge (ALJ) found that the limitations caused by Gayheart’s impairments did not preclude him from performing a significant number of jobs available in the national economy and denied Gayheart’s application. Gayheart’s request for an administrative appeal was denied. The Report and Recommendation issued by the federal court’s assigned magistrate judge concluded that the ALJ’s decision was not supported by substantial evidence and that Gayheart should be awarded benefits. But the district court sustained the Commissioner’s objections and affirmed the ALJ’s decision. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the ALJ failed to weigh the medical opinions according to 20 C.F.R. 404.1527. View "Gayheart v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec." on Justia Law

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While working at a Ford Motor plant, Rudisill was hit in the face by a piece of equipment, was knocked against a wall, fell to the floor, and rolled forward through the floor opening into the hot pit below. He lay there unconscious, being burned, until coworkers pulled him out of the pit. Rudisill had gained consciousness by this time and was screaming in pain. Rudisill sustained a head injury that required several staples to close. He was also burned on his arms and legs, abdomen, and left hand. Rudisill continues to experience pain, dizzy spells, ringing in the ears, and memory problems. He has had numerous surgeries and has undergone physical and occupational therapy. After a safety review immediately following the incident, Ford decided to modify the process so that employees slide metal grates over the pit before removing the guard rails. After receiving workers’ compensation benefits, Rudisill sued Ford, alleging intentional tort; his wife asserted a derivative claim of loss of consortium. The district court granted summary judgment for Ford. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding insufficient evidence that Ford acted with deliberate intent to injure Rudisill, as required by Ohio statute. View "Rudisill v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law