By Walter F. Roche Jr.
In a move that could save millions of dollars intended for victims of the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak, four members of Congress have asked a top federal official to waive the recovery of money paid by the federal government to pay for many of the victims' treatments.
In a three-page letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, the four asked her to officially waive any government claim to a $200 million trust fund set up to compensate victims of the 2012 fatal outbreak.
The letter asks Burwell to "use your statutory authority to waive all Medicare liens that could attach to a victims' compensation fund to benefit victims of the New England Compounding Center tragedy."
Signers of the letter include Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander and Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren.
The 2012 outbreak sickened 778 patients across the country, killing 76 of them.
Citing "the unique circumstances of this case," the four legislators, two from each party, wrote that "Many victims who received tainted doses have suffered through terrible side effects caused by the infection and the powerful drugs that save their lives."
The plea comes as more and more victims have been put on notice by the federal government and private insurers that they plan to attach liens to any awards stemming from current court litigation in order to recoup payments they made for the victims' care and recovery.
In an email response to questions recently, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services stated that the agency was required by law to seek recovery under a legal process called subrogation.
But in their letter, the four senators cited a specific provision in federal law that gives the HHS secretary the power to waive the recovery efforts.
They also noted that NECC was able to evade state and federal requirements because of a "regulatory gap."
Stating that federal government was "partially responsible" for the suffering of the victims, the letter concluded that a decision by the federal government "to attach Medicare liens to the NECC victims' compensation fund will result in continued hardship for NECC victims and their families."
In addition to Alexander and Warren the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Pat Roberts and Al Franken. Franken from Minnesota is a Democrat while Roberts is a Kansas Republican.