Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Judge Declines Request to Set Meningitis Claim Deadlines
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Stating that any last minute changes would just bollix things up, a federal judge today refused a request to impose deadlines on the federal government for handling some claims from victims of the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak.
Instead U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel gave her approval to a 13-page agreement that spells out a process for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to get reimbursement for amounts it paid for the care of outbreak victims.
Nashville attorney William Leader had asked Zobel to set deadlines for CMS to respond to victims who want to opt out of the 13-page agreement. As written, Leader told Zobel, opt out victims could be left waiting for extended periods of time and forced to work through an administrative maze.
Without the agreement for federal reimbursement, however, the trustee of a $200 million fund has stated that no payments will be made.
The trust fund, which will also be tapped to pay lawyers fees and administrative expenses, was created in the bankruptcy of the New England Compounding Center, the company blamed for the deadly 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak which killed some 77 patients.
Leader said the final agreement reached this week struck out "a very important provision" to protect the rights of those choosing not to accept the global settlement. He asked that CMS be required to respond to opt out requests within 20 days.
Zobel, however, said she did not want to risk undoing the result of lengthy negotiations.
"I do not want to scuttle the agreement," said Zobel, adding that if she attempted a change "it's going to get all bollixed up again...I'm going to sign it right now."
She said that if disputes arise with the handling of claims, complaints can be brought to her since she will retain jurisdiction.
Leader in earlier testimony told Zobel that an agreement to settle more than 100 claims against Nashville's Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center has been reached and a Sept. 9 deadline has been set for signing a final settlement agreement.
"We've resolved it," Leader said of the Saint Thomas cases.
The details of that settlement, including a dollar value, have not been disclosed.
Also during the 75 minute session, Kristen Johnson, representing the plaintiffs' steering committee gave a report on the current status of cases, some of which will remain before Zobel while others will go back to the states where they originated.