Congress Passes SMART Act Requiring Medicare To Promptly Provide Information
After many years of bipartisan calls for action, the United States Congress has finally passed a bill addressing a long-standing problem which has been plaguing attorneys, insurance companies and injury victims for years. If the president signs this legislation, called the Strengthening Medicare and Repaying Taxpayers (SMART) Act, Medicare’s longstanding practice of causing tremendous delays to parties desperately trying to settle lawsuits will end.
Most people don’t realize that if a person who is injured by another’s carelessness receives Medicare benefits to pay part of their medical bills and then makes a claim against the person who injured them, Medicare has the legal right to get repaid out of any money recovered. This right is called a “lien.” As anyone who has ever dealt with Medicare knows, however, it is extremely difficult to get Medicare to tell you anything, or even get a live person on the phone without sitting on hold for an hour or more.
The upshot of all of this is that for years many lawsuits have existed where both sides agree in concept to a settlement but can’t actually settle because they all lack the information from Medicare that they need to take the actions that Medicare requires them to take. In the past, there have been situations where it has taken me over a year to actually get Medicare to give me a final number of how much they should be repaid.
This is completely unfair to everyone involved. Many times, the parties have already reached an agreement about settlement, but Medicaid’s foot dragging means that the settlement cannot be finalized because of the government’s high-handed actions. Medicare makes it clear that if the lawyer representing the injured person simply gives all the settlement money to the injured person, Medicare will sue that lawyer personally to recover the money. Similarly, Medicare rules say that the insurance company that pays the money to the injured person also is on the hook, so they better not settle without making sure Medicare gets repaid in full. So the end result is that because of these Medicare rules, lawsuits involving Medicare recipients have been dragged out for a ridiculously long amounts of time.
It’s an unusual situation these days when both insurance companies and plaintiff’s lawyers agree on something. But here everyone involved agreed that it’s unfair for Medicare to insist on action from these people and then refuse to give them the information necessary for them to take that action.
After years of requests from insurance companies and trial lawyers alike, Congress has finally taken action. This new bill places time limits on Medicare and puts in place other measures to speed up and streamline the Medicare lien resolution process.
Mr. President, please sign the SMART Act!