By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Citing delays of nearly four years and the ongoing suffering and even death of some of their clients, lawyers for 154 Virginia victims of a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak are asking a federal judge to end the bureaucratic logjam holding up the payment of millions of dollars.
In a seven page motion filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Boston, the lawyers said an ongoing review by two federal agencies must be ended one way or another and vital information must be released to individual victims so they can individually pursue a settlement of any claims from the federally funded Medicare and Medicaid programs.
"While justice has remained illusory, certain Virginia victims have died while waiting for severely needed and already appropriated recovery," the brief states.
The filing is the latest development as victims in some 20 states seek to get their share of some $200 million already set aside in federal courts. The claimants are victims of the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak which sickened 778 patients killing 77 of them.
While the motion filed Monday only applies to Virginia victims, similar efforts are expected from victims in other states including Michigan and Tennessee.
According to the motion negotiations with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over the recovery of payments made from those programs for the care of victims has been going on for a year without a final agreement.
The motion asks U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel to act at an already scheduled Aug 16 hearing to order the trustee of the $200 million "to make timely distributions without further delay" and to either end the ongoing negotiations or set a deadline for those negotiations to be completed.
"In short the CMS deal is holding up the entire disbursement process," the motion states, citing the increasing frustration of victims.
The motion also asks the judge to stop the trustee from imposing any further restrictions on the release of those funds.
The motion charges that despite this already "untenable situation," the trustee, Lynne Riley, recently imposed a new requirement that claimants certify that there were no liens other than Medicare or Medicaid on the distribution.
According to the filing federal officials have refused to allow individual claimants to even open a claim, a necessary step before they can "opt out" of any global settlement agreement. That, the lawyers argue, means yet another 60 to 90 day delay before victims can even open a claim.
"These claimants are additionally and tragically further injured" by these delays, the motion states.