Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Public Benefits
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UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage insurers challenged the Overpayment Rule, promulgated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) under 42 U.S.C. 1301-1320d-8, 1395-1395hhh, in an effort to trim costs. The Rule requires that, if an insurer learns that a diagnosis submitted to CMS for payment lacks support in the beneficiary’s medical record, the insurer must refund that payment within 60 days. UnitedHealth claims that the Overpayment Rule is subject to a principle of “actuarial equivalence,” and fails to comply. Two health plans that pay the same percentage of medical expenses are said to have benefits that are actuarially equivalent.The D.C. Circuit rejected the challenge. Actuarial equivalence does not apply to the Overpayment Rule or the statutory overpayment-refund obligation under which it was promulgated. Reference to actuarial equivalence appears in a different statutory subchapter from the requirement to refund overpayments; neither provision cross-references the other. The actuarial-equivalence requirement and the overpayment-refund obligation serve different ends. The actuarial-equivalence provision requires CMS to model a demographically and medically analogous beneficiary population in traditional Medicare to determine the prospective lump-sum payments to Medicare Advantage insurers. The Overpayment Rule, in contrast, applies after the fact to require Medicare Advantage insurers to refund any payment increment they obtained based on a diagnosis they know lacks support in their beneficiaries’ medical records. View "UnitedHealthcare Insurance Co v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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In 2008, four long-term care hospitals that treat patients who are dually eligible for the Medicare and Medicaid programs were denied reimbursement by the Secretary of Health and Human Services for “bad debts,” unpaid coinsurances and deductibles owed by patients. The Secretary denied reimbursement on the grounds that the hospitals failed to comply with the “must-bill” policy, 42 C.F.R. 413.89(e)(2), which requires hospitals to bill the state Medicaid program to determine whether Medicaid will cover the bad debts first, and obtain a “remittance advice” indicating whether the state “refuses payment,” before seeking reimbursement under Medicare. uring the relevant time period, the hospitals were not enrolled in Medicaid and were unable to bill their state Medicaid programs; they claim they were previously reimbursed and that there was an abrupt policy change.The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the Secretary, concluding that substantial evidence supported a finding that there was no change in policy. The court rejected arguments that the denial decision impermissibly required them to enroll in Medicaid, despite the fact that Medicaid participation is voluntary, and was arbitrary. View "New LifeCare Hospitals of North Carolina LLC v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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Saunders worked as a bus attendant for the Washington, D.C., school system, helping students with special needs and those in wheelchairs on and off the bus. On January 7, 2014, she slipped and fell on ice at work, suffering a hip contusion and back pain. Saunders never returned to work but filed a disability claim with the Social Security Administration six months after her fall. She obtained multiple opinions from Dr. Williams, her generalist, and Dr. Liberman, her neurologist. Saunders received disability benefits from the Washington, D.C., workers’ compensation board.After Saunders’s federal disability claims were denied an ALJ held a hearing and concluded that she was not disabled. The ALJ gave “some” weight to certain medical opinions but “no weight” to others, including Dr. Lieberman’s opinion that Saunders was permanently disabled. The ALJ placed considerable weight on the vocational expert’s testimony and found that someone with Saunders’s functional capacity could perform her past work as generally performed in the national economy. The district court affirmed. The D.C. Circuit remanded. The ALJ erroneously failed to consider certain medical opinions, particularly those of Saunders’s treating physician. View "Saunders v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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When Medicare overpays hospitals, it offsets that mistake by reducing future payments. By 2013, Medicare was out $11 billion because of new diagnostic codes and bookkeeping that did not keep up. Congress required that the Secretary of Health and Human Services recoup that amount by the end of fiscal year 2017 by reducing the base rate (standardized amount) paid for inpatient care and directed the Secretary to adjust the base rate by 0.5% each year through 2023, 129 Stat. 87, 163 (2015). Subsequently, while reviewing the 2017 budget, the Secretary realized that a -3.2% adjustment would leave the agency short of its $11 billion goal and announced a -3.9% adjustment. Congress then told the Secretary to increase the base rate by 0.4588% (not 0.5%) in 2018, 130 Stat. 1033, 1320 (2016). In 2017, the Secretary adjusted the base rate -3.9%. The agency met its goal. In 2018, the Secretary adjusted the base rate -3.4412%.Medicare providers sued, arguing that the Secretary should have reversed that expedient at the end of 2017 rather than carry it over into 2018, costing the hospitals $840 million in lost payments. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. While the hospitals felt a “significant financial impact” from the -0.7% adjustment, Section 7(b)(5) bars judicial review of adjustments made under the Act. View "Fresno Community Hospital and Medical Center v. Cochran" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that DCPS failed to provide her son with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) based on his 2017 individualized education program (IEP). The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the claim as moot, holding that the case presents a fact-specific challenge to particular provisions in an inoperative IEP. Furthermore, the parties agreed to a subsequent IEP and plaintiff does not seek retrospective relief. The court also held that an exception to mootness does not apply where the voluntary cessation doctrine is inapplicable and plaintiff's claim fails to meet the capable of repetition prong because the challenge focuses on a fact-specific inquiry rather than a recurring legal question. View "J. T. v. District of Columbia" 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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Kentucky and Arkansas residents sued the Secretary of Health and Human Services based on the approval under 42 U.S.C. 1315(a) of an “experimental, pilot, or demonstration projects which, in the judgment of the Secretary, is likely to assist in promoting the objectives” of Medicaid. The district court held that the Secretary failed to analyze whether the projects would promote the primary objective of Medicaid—to furnish medical assistance. Kentucky terminated its project and obtained voluntary dismissal.The D.C. Circuit affirmed with respect to the Arkansas Works program, which required beneficiaries aged 19-49 to “work or engage in specified educational, job training, or job search activities for at least 80 hours per month,” except beneficiaries who show they are medically frail or pregnant, caring for a dependent child under age six, participating in a substance treatment program, or are full-time students. Works proposed to eliminate retroactive coverage, to lower the income eligibility threshold from 133% to 100% of the federal poverty line, and eliminated using Medicaid funds to assist beneficiaries in paying the premiums for employer-provided health care coverage. Instead of analyzing whether the demonstration would promote the objective of providing coverage, the Secretary identified three alternative objectives. Congress has not conditioned the receipt of Medicaid benefits on fulfilling work requirements or taking steps to end receipt of governmental benefits View "Gresham v. Azar" on Justia Law

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The Hospitals challenged HHS's implementation of a Medicare outlier-payment program in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Hospitals contend that HHS violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 551 et seq., by failing to identify and appropriately respond to flaws in its methodology that enabled certain "turbo-charging" hospitals to manipulate the system and receive excessive payments at the expense of non-turbo-charging hospitals, including the Hospitals. The DC Circuit held that District Hospital Partners, L.P. v. Burwell, 786 F.3d 46 (D.C. Cir. 2015), controlled to the extent that the Hospitals repeated challenges decided in that case. In regard to the remaining challenges, the court affirmed the district court's denials of the Hospitals' motions to supplement the record and to amend their complaint, and its decision that HHS acted reasonably in a manner consistent with the Medicare Act in fiscal years (FYs) 1997 through 2003, and 2007. However, because HHS inadequately explained aspects of the calculations for FYs 2004 through 2006, the court reversed summary judgment in that regard and remanded for further proceedings. View "Banner Health v. Price" on Justia Law

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Healthcare Providers sought a mandamus order to force the HHS Secretary to clear the administrative appeals backlog and adhere to the Medicare statute's timeframe to complete the process. The district court subsequently determined that mandamus was appropriate and adopted Healthcare Provider's proposed timetable when the Secretary refused to engage with the premise of setting a timetable at all and proposed no alternative targets. The DC Circuit held that, notwithstanding the district court's earnest efforts to make do with what the parties presented, the failure to seriously test the Secretary's assertion of impossibility and to make a concomitant finding of possibility was an abuse of discretion. Accordingly, the court vacated the mandamus order and the order denying reconsideration, and remanded to the district court to evaluate the merits of the Secretary's claim that unlawful compliance would be impossible. View "American Hospital Assoc. v. Price" on Justia Law

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Texas Neighborhood Services received Head Start grant money to provide childcare services to low-income families in Texas. The Department subsequently required Neighborhood Services to repay $1.3 million in federal funds it awarded to staff in the form of performance bonuses. The Department argued that the payments were unreasonable and inadequately documented and the Appeals Board agreed. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's rejection of Neighborhood Services' challenge under the Administrative Procedures Act. In this case, Neighborhood Services failed to produce documentation sufficient to show that it was awarding performances in accordance with the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-122, which explains when and how the government will reimburse federal grantees, including organizations receiving Head Start money, for different types of expenses. View "Texas Neighborhood Services v. HHS" on Justia Law