Justia Public Benefits Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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When Plaintiff-appellant Linda Smith purchased a prescribed continuous blood glucose monitor (CGM) and its necessary supplies between 2016 and 2018, she sought reimbursement through Medicare Part B. Medicare administrators denied her claims. Relying on a 2017 ruling issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Medicare concluded Smith’s CGM was not “primarily and customarily used to serve a medical purpose” and therefore was not covered by Part B. Smith appealed the denial of her reimbursement claims through the multistage Medicare claims review process. At each stage, her claims were denied. Smith then sued the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in federal court, seeking monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief. Contending that her CGM and supplies satisfied the requirements for Medicare coverage. Instead of asking the court to uphold the denial of Smith’s claims, the Secretary admitted that Smith’s claims should have been covered and that the agency erred by denying her claims. Rather than accept the Secretary’s admission, Smith argued that the Secretary only admitted error to avoid judicial review of the legality of the 2017 ruling. During Smith’s litigation, CMS changed its Medicare coverage policy for CGMs. Prompted by several adverse district court rulings, CMS promulgated a formal rule in December 2021 classifying CGMs as durable medical equipment covered by Part B. But the rule applied only to claims for equipment received after February 28, 2022, so pending claims for equipment received prior to that date were not covered by the new rule. Considering the new rule and the Secretary’s confession of error, the district court in January 2022 remanded the case to the Secretary with instructions to pay Smith’s claims. The district court did not rule on Smith’s pending motions regarding her equitable relief claims; instead, the court denied them as moot. Smith appealed, arguing her equitable claims were justiciable because the 2017 ruling had not been fully rescinded. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the Secretary that Smith’s claims were moot: taken together, the December 2021 final rule and the 2022 CMS ruling that pending and future claims for CGMs would be covered by Medicare deprived the Tenth Circuit jurisdiction for further review. View "Smith v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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Three teaching hospitals challenged the denial of Medicare reimbursements. At that time, a teaching hospital could obtain reimbursement only by incurring “substantially all” of a resident’s training costs. Because the teaching hospitals had shared the training costs for each resident, the government denied reimbursement. The denials led the teaching hospitals to file administrative appeals. While they were pending, Congress enacted the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which created a new standard for reimbursement. The parties disagreed on whether the ACA’s new standard applied to proceedings reopened when Congress changed the law. The agency answered no, and the district court granted summary judgment to the agency. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "St. Francis Hospital, et al. v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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This case arose from the cancellation of long-term-care Medicaid benefits for two claimants when an Oklahoma agency concluded that the claimants’ resources exceeded the regulatory cap for eligibility. One claimant, Idabelle Schnoebelen died, mooting her claim. The eligibility of the other claimant, Nelta Rose, turned on whether her resources included a 2018 promissory note. In 2017 and 2018, Rose loaned money to her daughter-in-law in exchange for three promissory notes. The daughter-in-law provided the first two promissory notes in 2017 (before Rose applied for Medicaid benefits). The Oklahoma Department of Human Services initially approved Rose for Medicaid, declining to regard the 2017 promissory notes as resources. In 2018, the daughter-in-law provided the third promissory note. But the Department of Human Services concluded that the 2018 promissory note: (1) was a resource because the payment to the daughter-in-law did not constitute a bona fide loan; and (2) was a deferral that turned the 2017 promissory notes into resources. The extra resources put Rose over the eligibility limit for Medicaid, so the Department of Human Services cancelled Rose’s benefits. A district court concluded that the agency’s conclusion did not conflict with federal law. In the Tenth Circuit's view, however, a reasonable factfinder could disagree. Summary judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Baker, et al. v. Brown, et al." on Justia Law

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In separate claims, appellees Willie Carr and Kim Minor sought disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). In each case, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) denied the claim, and the agency’s Appeals Council declined to review. While his case was pending in district court, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) ALJs were “inferior officers” under the Appointments Clause, and therefore must be appointed by the President, a court, or head of the agency. Shortly thereafter, Minor also sued in district court to challenge the denial of benefits in her case. In response to the Supreme Court case, Lucia v. S.E.C., 138 S. Ct. 2044 (2018), the SSA Commissioner appointed the SSA's ALJs to address any Appointments Clause questions Lucia posed. After the Commissioner’s action, Carr and Minor each filed a supplemental brief, asserting for the first time that the ALJs who had rejected their claims had not been properly appointed under the Appointments Clause. The district court upheld the ALJs’ denials of the claims, but it agreed with the Appointments Clause challenges. The court vacated the SSA decisions and remanded for new hearings before constitutionally appointed ALJs. It held that appellees did not waive their Appointments Clause challenges by failing to raise them in their SSA proceedings. On appeal, the Commissioner argued Appellees waived their Appointments Clause challenges by failing to exhaust them before the SSA. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the Commissioner and reversed. View "Carr v. Commissioner, SSA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellants were eleven rural hospitals (the “Hospitals”) who challenged the methodology the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (the “Secretary”) used to calculate their Medicare reimbursements. After the publication of the FY 2010 Final Rule, the Hospitals took issue with the Secretary’s methodology for calculating the hospital-specific rate for new base years. And dissatisfied with their reimbursements under that methodology, the Hospitals filed administrative appeals with the Provider Reimbursement Review Board, an independent panel authorized to hear appeals from the Secretary’s final determinations. The Hospitals then sued the Secretary in the district court, arguing: (1) the Secretary applied the same cumulative budget-neutrality adjustment twice—once by using inflated normalized diagnosis-related group weights as a divisor in step two and then again in step four; (2) the Secretary’s methodology yielded different payments than “would have been made had [he] . . . applied the budget-neutrality adjustments to the DRG weights themselves;" and (3) the Secretary acted arbitrarily and capriciously by not calculating the hospital-specific rate for new base years “based on 100 percent” of a hospital’s base-year “target amount." The district court held it would “not second-guess the Secretary’s policy” just because there may have been “other ways of calculating payments.” And so the court denied the Hospitals’ summary-judgment motion, granted the Secretary’s cross-motion, and entered final judgment.The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, in reviewing the Hospitals’ arguments, found that their arguments rested on "flawed assumptions. And the Secretary has long understood his methodology and explained it to the public." The Court concurred with the district court and affirmed its judgment. View "Hays Medical Center et al. v. Azar" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Steven Kientz spent many years as a "dual status" technician with the Kansas Army National Guard, where he worked as a mechanic on electronic measurement equipment. Plaintiff’s position required him to simultaneously serve as a member of the National Guard, a second job with separate pay and separate responsibilities. In retirement, Plaintiff receives a monthly pension payment under the Civil Service Retirement System based on his service as a dual status technician. Plaintiff also receives Social Security retirement benefits based on contributions he made to the Social Security system from his separate pay as a National Guard member. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether a dual status service technician’s civil service pension was “based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service” under 42 U.S.C. 415(a)(7)(A). After review, the Court concluded Plaintiff's civil service pension is not “wholly” based on service as a member of a uniformed service, and his pension payments were therefore subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision ("WEP"). Plaintiff’s dual status technician work was at least partially distinct from the performance of his military duties. And Plaintiff received separate compensation and separate pensions for his performance of those distinct roles. The Court concurred with the district court and Social Security Administration that Plaintiff's Social Security retirement benefits were subject to the WEP. View "Kientz v. Commissioner, SSA" on Justia Law

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Arthur Noreja appeals the denial of his claim for disability benefits. Noreja filed his disability claim in March 2012. In July 2013, following a hearing, an ALJ issued a detailed written order – exceeding 13 pages with single spacing – in which she denied Noreja’s claim. The ALJ found Noreja had several severe impairments, including “arthritis of the left upper extremity and right lower extremity,” “cognitive disorder,” and “headaches.” Nevertheless, the ALJ determined that these impairments (or a combination of the impairments) did not warrant relief. The ALJ found that Noreja had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to do “medium” work, subject to various limitations, and that there were “jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy” which Noreja could perform. The Appeals Council disagreed with the ALJ’s assessment, and remanded with direction for further proceedings. Once more, however, the ALJ determined that Noreja did not have “an impairment or combination of impairments” that warranted relief, reiterated that Noreja had the RFC to do "medium" work, subject to various limitations, and that there were jobs in existence "in significant numbers" which Noreja could perform. The ALJ did not obtain a new consultative mental examination before issuing her May 2016 decision, but she procured additional evidence regarding Noreja’s impairments. On appeal of the second ALJ decision, Noreja alleged the ALJ failed to follow an instruction in the Appeals Council's remand order. The Tenth Circuit held: (1) it had jurisdiction to determine whether an alleged ALJ violation of an Appeals Council order warranted reversal; but (2) the Court's “usual” review standards remained in force, meaning that the alleged violation was material only if it showed the ALJ meaningfully failed to apply the correct legal standards, or the denial of benefits was unsupported by substantial evidence; and (3) applying those standards here, the ALJ’s denial of Noreja’s application had to be affirmed. View "Noreja v. Commissioner, SSA" on Justia Law

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Stacey Janssen alleged Lawrence Memorial Hospital ("LMH") engaged in two healthcare schemes to fraudulently receive money from the United States. Janssen first contended LMH falsified patients’ arrival times in order to increase its Medicare reimbursement under certain pay-for-reporting and pay-for-performance programs the Government used to study and improve hospitals’ quality of care. Second, Janssen contended LMH falsely certified compliance with the Deficit Reduction Act in order to receive Medicare reimbursements to which it was otherwise not entitled. LMH moved for summary judgment below, arguing Janssen failed to show her allegations satisfied the Act’s materiality requirement - that the alleged falsehoods influenced the Government’s payment decision as required under the FCA. The district court granted LMH summary judgment on all of Janssen’s claims on this basis, and finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States ex rel. Janssen v. Lawrence Memorial Hospital" on Justia Law

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Blue Valley Hospital, Inc., (“BVH”) appealed a district court’s dismissal of its action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) terminated BVH’s Medicare certification. The next day, BVH sought an administrative appeal before the HHS Departmental Appeals Board and brought this action. In this action, BVH sought an injunction to stay the termination of its Medicare certification and provider contracts pending its administrative appeal. The district court dismissed, holding the Medicare Act required BVH exhaust its administrative appeals before subject matter jurisdiction vested in the district court. BVH acknowledged that it did not exhaust administrative appeals with the Secretary of HHS prior to bringing this action, but argued: (1) the district court had federal question jurisdiction arising from BVH’s constitutional due process claim; (2) BVH’s due process claim presents a colorable and collateral constitutional claim for which jurisdictional exhaustion requirements are waived under Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976); and (3) the exhaustion requirements foreclosed the possibility of any judicial review and thus cannot deny jurisdiction under Bowen v. Michigan Academy of Family Physicians, 476 U.S. 667 (1986). The Tenth Circuit disagreed and affirmed dismissal. View "Blue Valley Hospital v. Azar" on Justia Law

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This case was a qui tam action alleging violations of the False Claims Act (“FCA”) involving fraudulent reimbursements under the Medicare Act. Plaintiff Gerald Polukoff, M.D., was a doctor who worked with Defendant Sherman Sorensen, M.D. After observing some of Sorensen’s medical practices, Polukoff brought this FCA action, on behalf of the United States, against Sorensen and the two hospitals where Sorensen worked (collectively, “Defendants”). Polukoff alleged Sorensen performed thousands of unnecessary heart surgeries and received reimbursement through the Medicare Act by fraudulently certifying that the surgeries were medically necessary. Polukoff further alleged the hospitals where Sorensen worked were complicit in and profited from Sorensen’s fraud. The district court granted Defendants’ motions to dismiss, reasoning that a medical judgment could not be false under the FCA. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that a doctor’s certification to the government that a procedure is “reasonable and necessary” is “false” under the FCA if the procedure was not reasonable and necessary under the government’s definition of the phrase. View "Polukoff v. St. Mark's Hospital" on Justia Law