Tuesday, February 16, 2016
HHS Secretary Rejects Lien Waiver Request
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
The U.S. Secretary of Human Services has turned down a request by four members of Congress to waive millions of dollars in Medicare liens placed against awards to victims of a 2012 deadly fungal meningitis outbreak.
In a letter to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell wrote that granting such a waiver "would not be consistent" with agency policy.
That means victims of the outbreak sharing in $200 million trust fund will have to rely on ongoing negotiations between lawyers for the victims and the U.S. Justice Department, which is representing the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the discussions.
While rejecting the request for a blanket waiver Burwell said she was offering her "deepest sympathies" to any of your constituents who may have suffered because of this matter."
Alexander and three other U.S. Senate members had written to Burwell seeking the blanket waiver noting that such a waiver was granted to the 9/11 terrorists attack.
Burwell also disclosed that she had previously received similar requests regarding the fungal meningitis outbreak and had turned them down also.
The outbreak, caused by a defunct Massachusetts drug compounding firm, sickened 778 patients across the country, killing 76 of them. Tennessee was one of the hardest hit states.
"Through DOJ, CMS is actively engaged in discussions to reach a potential resolution that will minimize any procedural burden on Medicare beneficiaries involved in this matter," Burwell continued.
Lawyers for victims have stated that if the negotiations for a global settlement fail, each victim will be forced to negotiate a personal settlement, a process that is likely to result in considerable delays.
Signing the late December letter along with Alexander, a Republican, were Democrats Al Franken of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas.