Collins v. Wellcare Healthcare Plans, Inc.

Decision Date16 December 2014
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 13–6759.
Citation73 F.Supp.3d 653
PartiesAimie COLLINS v. WELLCARE HEALTHCARE PLANS, INC.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Louisiana

Jerri Gaines Smitko, Smitko Law, APLC, Houma, LA, for Aimie Collins.

Ryan Lee Woody, Matthiesen, Wickert & Lehrer, S.C., Hartford, WI, James Thomas Busenlener, Matthiesen, Wickert & Lehrer, SC, New Orleans, LA, for Wellcare Healthcare Plans, Inc.

ORDER & REASONS

ELDON E. FALLON, District Judge.

Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Wellcare Healthcare Plans, Inc. (“Wellcare”). (Rec. Doc. 18). The Court has reviewed the briefs and applicable law, and having heard oral argument on the motion, now issues this Order & Reasons.

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises out of a payment that Defendant WellCare Healthcare Plans, Inc. made for Plaintiff Aimie Collins' medical bills incurred as a result of an automobile accident. Collins filed a Petition for Declaratory Judgment in the 32nd Judicial District Court for the Parish of Terrebonne. According to Collins, she was injured in an automobile accident on August 21, 2009 and required medical treatment as a result of that accident. Collins claims that Wellcare, a Medicare Advantage Organization (“MAO”)1 , provided a Medicare Advantage Private–Fee–For–Service health insurance plan to her and that Wellcare paid medical expenses on her behalf to several providers. Collins admits that she instituted an action against the tortfeasor and recovered damages.2 Her attorney then deposited the amount paid by Wellcare into a special account. Collins now seeks a declaratory judgment that Wellcare is not entitled to subrogation or reimbursement for the amounts paid.

Wellcare removed the case to this Court pursuant to the Court's diversity jurisdiction. On January 6, 2014, Wellcare filed an Answer and a Counterclaim. Wellcare claims that the Medicare Advantage Plan at issue has a statutory right of reimbursement and subrogation which expressly pre-empts contrary State Law. According to Wellcare, Collins has not exhausted her administrative remedies and her declaratory action should be dismissed. In its Counterclaim, Wellcare claims that it paid a total of $181,261.97 for medical care and treatments received by Collins and is entitled to reimbursement from Collins' tort settlement.

II. MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
A. Wellcare's Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 18)

Wellcare filed the present Motion for Summary Judgment on August 29, 2014 seeking dismissal of Collins' Complaint and the granting of Wellcare's Counterclaim. Although Wellcare fashioned the motion as a Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court interprets the motion as a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), and a Motion for Summary Judgment on Wellcare's Counterclaim pursuant to Federal Rule of Procedure 56. Wellcare argues that the Court should dismiss Collins' claim because she failed to exhaust the mandatory Medicare exhaustion requirements pursuant to § 405(g), and the Court therefore lacks subject matter jurisdiction over her claim. (Rec. Doc. 18–1 at 12).

Wellcare also asks the Court to grant its Motion for Summary Judgment on its Counterclaim. Wellcare argues that MAOs are secondary payers under the Medicare Secondary Payer Statute (“MSP”) and “share the same exact rights under the MSP as provided to [the United States Government under] traditional Medicare.” (Rec. Doc. 18–1 at 13). Wellcare goes on to state that Medicare Part C “specifically gives MA[O]s ... a statutory right of secondary payer reimbursement where conditional benefits have already been paid....” (Rec. Doc. 18–1 at 14) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1395w–22(a)(4) ). Wellcare further argues that [c]ongressional intent supports the conclusion that MA[O] plans are entitled to the same recovery rights as traditional Medicare.” (Rec. Doc. 18–1 at 15).

Wellcare also urges the Court to defer to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' (“CMS”) agency regulations and administrative interpretations. (Rec. Doc. 18–1 at 15). Wellcare argues that [t]he Secretary has long made clear that an ‘MA[O] ... will exercise the same rights to recover from a primary plan, entity, or individual that the Secretary exercises under the MSP regulations.’ (Rec. Doc. 18–1 at 16) (citing 42 C.F.R. § 422.108(f) ). Wellcare avers that its claim for reimbursement is thus consistent with agency regulations and guidance. (Rec. Doc. 18–2 at 17).

B. Collins' Opposition to Wellcare's Motion for Summary Judgment

Collins filed an Opposition to Wellcare's Motion for Summary Judgment on September 10, 2014. Collins argues that she is not required to exhaust administrative remedies because she brought the action in state court based on state law causes of action and does not seek any Medicare benefits or services. (Rec. Doc. 23 at 8). Collins contends that the contract between the parties states that the administrative requirement is “invoked only ‘if you have problems getting the Part C medical care or service you request, or payment (including the amount you paid) for a Part C medical care or service.’ (Rec. Doc. 23 at 8). Collins cites a Ninth Circuit case where the court found that a wrongful death action against a private Medicare provider did not “arise under” the Medicare Act. (Rec. Doc. 23 at 8) (citing Ardary v. Aetna Health Plans of California, Inc., 98 F.3d, 496, 500 (9th Cir.1996) ).

In response to Wellcare's Counterclaim, Collins argues that other courts have consistently held that 42 U.S.C. § 1395mm(e)(4), a provision identical to the MAO Statute, does not provide for a private cause of action but merely affords parties the right to include subrogation provisions in their contracts. (Rec. Doc. 23 at 3–4) (citing Parra v. PacifiCare of Arizona, Inc., 715 F.3d 1146, 1153–54 (9th Cir.2013) ; Care Choices HMO v. Engstrom, 330 F.3d 786 (6th Cir.2003) ; Nott v. Aetna U.S. Healthcare, Inc., 303 F.Supp.2d 565, 571 (E.D.Pa.2004) ). Collins contends that Wellcare could only demand reimbursement from Collins if the contract incorporated this subrogation right, and as the contract does not contain such a term, Wellcare does not have a claim for reimbursement. (Rec. Doc. 23 at 4).

Collins argues that Wellcare does not have a private right of action under the MSP because Wellcare's claim is against Collins, and Collins does not constitute a group plan as required by the statute. Collins also avers that the MSP does not afford a private cause of action to MAOs. (Rec. Doc. 23 at 4–5). Relying on Parra v. PacifiCare, Collins argues that her settlement with a third party tortfeasor does not constitute a primary plan under the MSP.

(Rec. Doc. 23 at 5–6). Collins further argues that Wellcare failed to satisfy a prerequisite of a secondary payer claim because the payment did not constitute a conditional payment. Here, Collins contends that Wellcare failed to ascertain “whether a payment could ‘reasonably be expected’ to be made by a primary plan and if so, whether the primary plan had made a payment or could reasonably be expected to make a prompt payment.” (Rec. Doc. 23 at 10) (citing Thompson v. Goetzmann, 337 F.3d 489 (5th Cir.2003) ; Bio–Med. Applications of Tenn., Inc. v. Cent. States Se. and Sw. Areas Health and Welfare Fund, 656 F.3d 277, 286 (6th Cir.2011) ). Collins notes she had no duty to inform Wellcare of a third party payment, pursuant to the contract between Collins and Wellcare. (Rec. Doc. 23 at 12). Finally, Collins argues that any Wellcare claims are prescribed. (Rec. Doc. 23 at 13).

C. Wellcare's Reply to Collins' Opposition

Wellcare filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Opposition on September 15, 2014. Wellcare contends that numerous other courts have held that parties must exhaust their administrative remedies for disputes over subrogation rights. (Rec. Doc. 27 at 2) (citing Einhorn v. CarePlus Health Plans Inc., 43 F.Supp.3d 1329, 1331–32 (S.D.Fla.2014) ; Cupp v. Johns, et al., No. 2:14–cv–02016, 2014 WL 916489 at *3 (W.D.Ark. March 10, 2014) ; Potts, 897 F.Supp.2d at 188 ; Phillips v. Kaiser Found. Health Plan, Inc., 953 F.Supp.2d 1078, 1089 (N.D.Cal.2011) ). Wellcare argues that because the Court has jurisdiction pursuant to its diversity jurisdiction,3 Wellcare can enforce its rights under the Medicare Act and does not require a private cause of action. In response to Collins' assertion that Wellcare does not have subrogation rights because the contract does not include a reimbursement term, Wellcare contends that the right to reimbursement is statutory and not contractual. (Rec. Doc. 27–3 at 5).

Wellcare avers that Plaintiff's assertion that Wellcare cannot bring a private cause of action because Collins is not a “group plan” is without merit under the MSP. (Rec. Doc. 27–3 at 7). Wellcare argues that a primary plan includes an automobile or insurance policy under the MSP, and Collins recovered settlement funds from an automobile or insurance policy. (Rec. Doc. 27–3 at 7–8). Wellcare thus argues that it is “entitled to reimbursement of its conditional payments under 42 U.S.C. § 1395w–22(a)(4)(B), 42 U.S.C. § 1395mm(e)(4), and 42 C.F.R. § 422.108(d).” (Rec. Doc. 27–3 at 8).

Wellcare counters Collins' argument that it did not make a conditional payment and asserts that it is not required to notify any defendant or carrier of a lien's existence. (Rec. Doc. 27–3 at 9). Furthermore, Wellcare argues that Collins' prescription argument is without merit as she failed to respond to any of Wellcare's inquiries, and in any event, the applicable statute of limitations for Medicare reimbursement actions is six years. (Rec. Doc. 27–3 at 9).

III. LAW AND ANALYSIS

The Court understands the confusion caused by the Medicare acronyms, so to help assuage such confusion for the duration of this analysis, the Court will again summarize the acronyms to be used. “MSP” refers to the Medicare Secondary Payer Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b), and “MAO” refers to a Medicare Advantage...

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