Articles Posted in Health Insurance

Aaron Monheim, age 34, lives in Spokane, Washington with his wife and three year old daughter. In 2019, Aaron was diagnosed with aggressive relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis which has been unresponsive to medications and leaves Aaron partially disabled due to frequent flares and relapses.

Aaron’s physicians recommended him to receive a treatment called hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, found to be particularly suited for his form of relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis. The treatment will effectively reset his immune system so it will no longer attack his central nervous system. The treatment is also less costly than the traditional medications for multiple sclerosis which have been unsuccessful for Aaron.

Despite having been referred to the treatment by his own Kaiser doctor, Aaron’s health plan, Kaiser Permanente, has denied benefits for the treatment claiming the treatment is not necessary or suited for Aaron’s condition.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). In MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body. Eventually, the disease can cause permanent damage or deterioration of the nerves.

Signs and symptoms of MS vary widely and depend on the amount of nerve damage and which nerves are affected. Some people with severe MS may lose the ability to walk independently or at all, while others may experience long periods of remission without any new symptoms. While there is no cure for MS, treatments can help speed recovery from attacks, modify the course of the disease, and manage symptoms.

The National MS Society estimates that more than 2.3 million people have a diagnosis of MS worldwide and approximately 1 million people over the age of 18 in the United States have a diagnosis of MS.

The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that 1.5 million Americans, and at least five million people worldwide, have a form of lupus. According to the Lupus Foundation of America most lupus sufferers are misdiagnosed or can go undiagnosed for years. The goal of Lupus Awareness Month is to inform practitioners, patients, care givers, and the public about how best to diagnose, care for, and live with lupus.

What is Lupus?

Lupus is a chronic disease that can cause inflammation and pain in any part of your body. Lupus is a type of autoimmune disease, which means the body’s immune attacks healthy tissue instead.

Dealing with insurance companies can often feel complex, challenging, and overwhelming. You are not alone. But it is always best to understand your mental health benefits BEFORE you need to use them. Mental health services may be covered in whole or in part by your health insurance or employee benefit plan. It is important to understand your mental health benefits as you will be responsible for any unpaid claims.

Here are some tips and questions to consider as you try to understand your mental health benefits.

  • Obtain a copy of your health insurance policy or employee benefit plan.

Autoimmune disease is a broad category of related diseases in which a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks the tissues and organs it was designed to protect. Normally, the body’s immune system protects it by responding to invading microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses. The immune system produces antibodies, which are special proteins that recognize and destroy the invaders. Autoimmune diseases occur when these autoantibodies attack the body’s own cells, tissues, and organs.

Autoimmune Facts:

  • There are more than 100 autoimmune diseases.

An alternative to health insurance marketplaces available through healthcare.gov are “short term” health insurance plans purchased through insurance brokers.

These short term plans have surprisingly low premiums and even slimmer coverage. The problems with these short term plans have caused four states – California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York – to ban them.

Insurance brokers are incentivized with higher commissions to sell short term plans compared to Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) plans.  See more from Consumer Reports HERE

Health insurance plans provide coverage only for health-related serves that they define or determine to be “medically necessary.” Medical necessity refers to a decision by your health plan that your treatment, test, or procedure is necessary for your health or to treat a diagnosed medical problem.

Most health plans will not pay for healthcare services that they deem to be not medically necessary. The most common example is a cosmetic procedure, such as the injection of medications to decrease facial wrinkles or tummy-tuck surgery. Many health insurance companies also will not cover procedures that they determine to be experimental or not proven to work.

Hereditary Leiomyomatosis and Renal Cell Cancer (“HLRCC”) is a very rare genetic condition that was named in 2002. It is also known as Reed’s Syndrome. HLRCC is a disorder in which affected individuals tend to develop benign tumors containing smooth muscle tissue (leiomyomas) in the skin and, in females, the uterus. This condition also increases the risk of kidney cancer. Surveillance and monitoring for HLRCC is recommended starting at around age 5-8 years.

Our firm is involved in litigating a proton beam cancer treatment denial case in Georgia, Ghattas v. Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Care Plan of Georgia, Inc., Case No. 1:20-CV-03157-ELR, 2020 WL 6867155 (N.D. Ga. Nov. 18, 2020). Defendants Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Care Plan of Georgia (BCBSGA) answered Plaintiff Christopher Ghattas’ Complaint alleging the wrongful denial of his life-saving proton beam radiation therapy at Emory University Proton Therapy Center for a diagnosis of brain cancer. Following Defendant’s answering of the Complaint, counsel began preparing to conduct a Rule 26(f) Conference per the Court’s Order. Prior to the setting of this conference call, counsel for BCBSGA articulated to Plaintiff’s counsel two positions: (1) that ERISA matters were exempt from the initial disclosures requirements of FRCP Rule 26 and (2) that Plaintiff—although never having received a page of the administrative record in this case nor counsel ever discussing the standard of review to be applied to this benefits denial—was not entitled to any discovery in an ERISA matter. The Court resolved these two issues as addressed in the parties’ Joint Preliminary Report to the Court.

First, the Court agreed with Plaintiff’s position that Defendant would be required to produce initial disclosures in this matter pursuant to Rule 26. Citing Golden v. Sun Life Fin., Inc., 2:08-CV-070-WKW, 2008 WL 2782736 (M.D. Ala. July 15, 2008), the Court held that “[b]ecause this [ERISA] case involves more than just the administrative  record and because the parties will be engaging in discovery, [defendant is] required to provide initial disclosures in accordance with Rule 26(a).”

Second, Plaintiff had taken the position that he was not foreclosed on any grounds from conducting targeted and limited discovery depending upon the standard of review that would apply to BCBSGA’s benefits denial. Without having produced a single page of the administrative record, BCBSGA took the position that Plaintiff was entitled to no discovery in an ERISA matter. Here, the Court agreed with Plaintiff. Citing Adams v. Hartford Life and Acc. Ins. Co., 589 F. Supp. 2d 1366 (N.D. Ga. 2008), the Court stated that it did “not agree that discovery is inappropriate here.” “In matters such as the one at hand, ‘the body of case law developed under ERISA’ requires ‘the [C]ourt, at the very least, [to] examine the facts as known to the administrator at the time the decision to deny benefits was made to determine whether the administrator’s decision was reasonable.’” Adams, 589 F. Supp. 2d at 1367. The Court held that Plaintiff was entitled to narrowly tailored discovery regarding what evidence the Plan (who claimed it was vested with discretionary authority) was aware of at the time of its decision to deny Plaintiff’s claim for proton therapy.

If you have an unpaid air ambulance claim, you may be interested in the recent decision in Lubinski v. CVS Health Welfare Benefit Plan, Case No. 20-cv-89, 2020 WL 6870822 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 24, 2020).

While on vacation in the Dominican Republic, Plaintiff Renatta Lubinski, who had a history of acute leukemia, developed multiple conditions that compromised her respiratory system and kidney function. Doctors determined Lubinski should be transported by air ambulance to receive lifesaving treatment in the United States. Because of her complicated diagnosis and medical history, Lubinski was taken to her local hospital in Illinois, where her own doctors, who cared for her regularly and were familiar with her medical condition, could treat her. Aerocare Medical Transport System Inc., a company that provides highly specialized international air ambulance transportation services for patients in critical care, flew Lubinski from the Dominican Republic to Miami, Florida, and then from Miami to Evergreen Park, Illinois.

Aerocare charged $242,500 for the first flight and $284,250 for the second flight and submitted two claims for payment to Lubinski’s employee benefit plan, CVS Health Welfare Benefit Plan (CVS Plan), which was administered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL). BCBSIL initially denied Aerocare’s claim. Aerocare appealed, and BCBS concluded that the first trip from the Dominican Republic to Miami was medically necessary and covered under the plan, but that the second trip from Miami to Evergreen Park was not. Aerocare was reimbursed $30,000 out of $242,500 and its second appeal for more money was denied. Under Lubinski’s employee benefit plan, air ambulance transportation was covered at a rate of 80% minus a deductible. Aerocare initiated this lawsuit, seeking to recover payment for both trips, pre-judgment interest, and attorney’s fees. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss arguing (1) that the anti-assignment clause in the plan document precluded Aerocare’s claim and (2) that Aerocare failed to state a claim for relief. In response to the first argument, Lubinski replaced Aerocare as the plaintiff. This left defendants’ second argument for review.

As many healthcare providers have experienced, anti-assignment provisions in ERISA health plans can be a full-stop to recovering unpaid claims. In good news, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital v. Community Insurance Company dba Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, et al., No. 19-55053, __F.App’x__, 2020 WL 5870513 (9th Cir. Oct. 2, 2020), which is a decided win for providers.

In this case, the Ninth Court considered a trial court’s award of damages in favor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital (“MLK”), for services rendered to employees of Budco— the sponsor of the ERISA plan (the “Plan”). Budco’s employees made covered visits to MLK. Although the employees had assigned their benefit payments to MLK, Anthem—the Plan administrator—ignored the assignments, and made payments directly to the employees, who were beneficiaries under the Plan. The employees retained these payments. When MLK sought payment, Anthem ignored the request. Anthem, in refusing to pay MLK, asserted that an “anti-assignment” provision was part of the Plan and justified its payments directly to the employees.

To recover the assigned payments, MLK asserted two grounds in support of its claims. First, MLK asserted that the language of the anti-assignment provision did not prohibit the assignments. The district court did not rule on this contention. Second, MLK asserted that the district court should ignore the anti-assignment provision because it was not part of the Plan.

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