Monday, April 18, 2016
Lien Waivers Were Granted in 9/11 Claims
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Officials of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have confirmed that lien waivers were granted for some victims and first responders from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, thus sparing them from having to repay the government for millions of dollars in medical bills.
Tony Salters, a spokesman for CMS, acknowledged the granting of 9/11 waivers in an email response Monday to a series of questions.
He wrote that waivers were granted for "first responders and other victims related to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City."
He said the waivers can be authorized on a discretionary basis under a provision of the Social Security Act which gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to grant waivers "in the best interests" of the program.
The waivers can be for all or a portion of the amounts sought by the agency for reimbursement of medical costs it paid for Medicare and Medicaid recipients.
Such a waiver already has been denied to victims of the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak which sickened 778 patients across the country, killing 76 of them.
In response to a request from four members of Congress, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell early this year denied the waiver request, just days after it was submitted. The four members of Congress, including U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, had noted in their request that a waiver had been granted for 9/11 victims.
Salters said that notwithstanding the waiver denial negotiations over Medicare liens for the outbreak victims were ongoing with the agency represented in those talks by the U.S. Justice Department.
In a hearing last week in federal court in Boston, Fredric Ellis, who has been representing victims in those negotiations, reported substantial progress.
At issue is how much from a $200 million trust fund will actually go to victims of the outbreak and how much will go to the federal government and private insurance companies.
Some victims have argued that the federal government is in part responsible for the outbreak since federal regulators failed to shutdown the Massachusetts drug compounding firm that shipped fungus tainted drugs across the country. As a result, they argue, the federal government should waive any reimbursement claims
The now defunct New England Compounding Center was cited repeatedly by state and federal regulators but allowed to keep operating until shortly after the deadly outbreak became public.
The trust fund was generated during the subsequent NECC bankruptcy with contributions from NECC's owners, insurance companies and other related parties.
Salters said that absent a waiver, federal law requires CMS to seek reimbursement.
"We understand that many NECC settlement recipients who are Medicare beneficiaries are concerned about their settlements. Medicare routinely works to make sure that, in similar situations, people with Medicare benefits are able to keep a portion of their settlement," he wrote.