Winder HMA LLC v. Burwell, Civil Action No. 14-2021 (JEB)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtJAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge
Citation206 F.Supp.3d 22
Parties WINDER HMA LLC, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Sylvia BURWELL, Defendant.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 14-2021 (JEB)
Decision Date25 July 2016

206 F.Supp.3d 22

WINDER HMA LLC, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Sylvia BURWELL, Defendant.

Civil Action No. 14-2021 (JEB)

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Signed July 25, 2016


206 F.Supp.3d 24

Christopher L. Crosswhite, Duane Morris LLP, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

Jason Todd Cohen, Marsha Wellknown Yee, Joshua M. Kolsky, U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge

Hospitals participating in the Medicare program are reimbursed by the federal government each year for much of the cost of the services they provide to qualifying patients. The Medicare patients themselves, however, are responsible for a small share of the cost of their care – e.g. , deductibles or co-payments – just as non-Medicare patients are. When patients of both types fail to pay their portion of the bill, hospitals are forced to engage in collection efforts to recover the money due. If hospitals are ultimately unable to recover the amounts owed by Medicare patients, the Medicare program will reimburse them for this sum. To avoid token collection efforts, however, Medicare regulations require that hospitals treat Medicare and non-Medicare debts in the same manner.

In this case a group of hospitals challenges a decision by the Secretary of Health and Human Services not to reimburse them for some Medicare patients' unpaid debts because they did not expend precisely identical efforts collecting Medicare debts as they did collecting non-Medicare debts. As in other Medicare-reimbursement cases, "[w]hat begins as a rather conventional accounting problem raises significant questions respecting the interpretation of the Secretary's regulations," the agency's interpretive guidance, and the Medicare statutes themselves. See Shalala v. Guernsey Mem'l Hosp. , 514 U.S. 87, 89–90, 115 S.Ct. 1232, 131 L.Ed.2d 106 (1995). At issue here is a statute known as the Bad Debt Moratorium, which freezes in place some of the Secretary's Medicare-reimbursement policies as they existed on August 1, 1987. As the Court concludes that the Secretary's present understanding of one section of her interpretive guidance is inconsistent with her 1987 interpretation, it will vacate the agency's reimbursement denial and remand for further administrative proceedings.

I. Background

Because the Medicare statute and its attendant regulations and interpretive guidance create a complex scheme that governs the actions taking place in this case, the Court will first set forth the basic contours of that scheme and then examine the administrative proceedings that gave rise to Plaintiffs' suit.

A. Statutory Background

1. Overview

"The federal Medicare program reimburses medical providers for services they supply to eligible patients," who are typically elderly or disabled. See Ne. Hosp. Corp. v. Sebelius , 657 F.3d 1, 2 (D.C.Cir.2011) (citing 42 U.S.C § 1395 et seq. ). Part A, the section of the statute relevant here, "covers medical services furnished by hospitals and other institutional care providers." Id. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a component of the Department of Health and Human

206 F.Supp.3d 25

Services, administers the Medicare-reimbursement program. See Arkansas Dep't of Health and Human Servs. v. Ahlborn , 547 U.S. 268, 275, 126 S.Ct. 1752, 164 L.Ed.2d 459 (2006).

To receive their Medicare Part A reimbursements, "[a]t the end of each year, providers participating in Medicare submit cost reports to contractors acting on behalf of HHS known as fiscal intermediaries." Sebelius v. Auburn Regional Medical Center , ––– U.S. ––––, 133 S.Ct. 817, 822, 184 L.Ed.2d 627 (2013) ; see also 42 C.F.R. §§ 413.20, 413.24. These intermediaries, typically private companies that "process payments on behalf of CMS[ and] make interim payments to providers, ... then analyze and audit the cost report and inform the provider of the total amount of Medicare reimbursement to which they are entitled, which is referred to as the Notice of Program Reimbursement (NPR)." Emanuel Medical Center, Inc. v. Sebelius , 37 F.Supp.3d 348, 350 (D.D.C.2014) (citing 42 C.F.R. § 405.1803 ). A provider dissatisfied with the intermediary's determination of its NPR is afforded 180 days to request a hearing to challenge that determination before the Provider Reimbursement Review Board (PRRB). See 42 U.S.C. § 1395oo(a). "The Board can affirm, modify, or reverse the fiscal intermediary's award; the Secretary [of HHS] in turn may affirm, modify, or reverse the PRRB's decision." Emanuel Medical Center , 37 F.Supp.3d at 350 (citing 42 U.S.C. §§ 1395oo (d) -(f) ). The provider then has sixty days after notice of a final decision by the PRRB or the Secretary in which to file a civil action in federal district court to seek judicial review of that decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 1395oo(f) ; 42 C.F.R. § 405.1877.

2. Reimbursement of "Bad Debts"

"Although the costs incurred for most of the care provided to Medicare patients are borne by the government, individual Medicare patients are often responsible for both deductible and coinsurance payments for hospital care." Cmty. Health Sys., Inc. v. Burwell , 113 F.Supp.3d 197, 203–04 (D.D.C.2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). When Medicare patients fail to pay this portion of their care, hospitals may, under certain conditions, write such payments off as "bad debt" and seek reimbursement from the federal government. See 42 C.F.R § 413.89(e). As another court in this district has explained, "The principle underlying the reimbursement of Medicare bad debt is straightforward: ‘This policy, adopted in 1966[,] ... was originally intended to prevent costs of beneficiary care from being shifted to non-Medicare patients,’ " sometimes referred to as the "statutory cross-subsidization ban." Cmty. Health Sys., Inc. , 113 F.Supp.3d at 204 ; 42 U.S.C. § 1395x(v)(1)(A)(I) (stating that "the necessary costs of efficiently delivering covered services to individuals covered by" Medicare "will not be borne by individuals not so covered").

Medicare "bad debts" are defined as "amounts considered to be uncollectible from accounts and notes receivable that were created or acquired in providing services" and are "attributable to the deductibles and coinsurance amounts" billed by providers to individual Medicare patients. See 42 C.F.R. §§ 413.89(b)(1), 413.89(a). When hospitals submit Medicare bad debt for reimbursement, they must demonstrate that the debt satisfies four criteria, set forth in longstanding regulations:

(1) The debt must be related to covered services and derived from deductible and coinsurance amounts.

(2) The provider must be able to establish that reasonable collection efforts were made.

(3) The debt was actually uncollectible when claimed as worthless.
206 F.Supp.3d 26
(4) Sound business judgment established that there was no likelihood of recovery at any time in the future.

42 C.F.R. § 413.89(e). HHS has provided further interpretive instruction as to the meaning of "reasonable collection efforts" in its Provider Reimbursement Manual (PRM). See ECF No. 19 (Cross-Mot.) at 35 (Def. Exh. 1). PRM § 310 instructs:

To be considered a reasonable collection effort, a provider's effort to collect Medicare deductible and coinsurance amounts must be similar to the effort the provider puts forth to collect comparable amounts from non-Medicare patients . It must involve the issuance of a bill on or shortly after discharge or death of the beneficiary to the party responsible for the patient's personal financial obligations. It also includes other actions such as subsequent billings, collection letters and telephone calls or personal contacts with this party which constitute a genuine, rather than a token, collection effort.

Def. Exh. 1 at 2 (emphasis added). The PRM further states that a reasonable collection effort may – but need not – involve referral of unpaid amounts to a collection agency:

A provider's collection effort may include the use of a collection agency in addition to or in lieu of subsequent billings, follow-up letters, telephone and personal contacts. Where a collection agency is used, Medicare expects the provider to refer all uncollected patient charges of like amount to the agency without regard to class of patient.... Therefore, if a provider refers to a collection agency its uncollected non-Medicare patient charges which in amount are comparable to the individual Medicare deductible and coinsurance amounts due the provider from its Medicare patient, Medicare requires the provider to also refer its uncollected Medicare deductible and coinsurance amounts to the collection agency.

Id. at 2-3 (PRM § 310(A)). The same section of the manual sets forth a "[p]resumption of [n]oncollectibility," according to which debts are deemed uncollectible "[i]f after reasonable and customary attempts to collect a bill, the debt remains unpaid more than 120 days from the date the first bill is mailed to the beneficiary." Id. at 3 (PRM § 310.2).

3. Bad Debt Moratorium

While the repayment of bad debts to hospitals has been...

To continue reading

Request your trial
3 practice notes
  • Mercy Gen. Hosp. v. Azar, Civil Action No. 16-99 (RBW)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 29 Septiembre 2018
    ...that these provisions existed prior to the Moratorium, "that fact does not end the inquiry." Winder HMA LLC v. Burwell, 206 F.Supp.3d 22, 37 (D.D.C. 2016). Rather, "[t]he question facing the Court[ ] [ ] is whether the Secretary's current understanding of ... th[e] [provision......
  • Maze v. Internal Revenue Serv., Civil Action Nos. 15-1806 (CKK)
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • 25 Julio 2016
    ...this case for want of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). This case is dismissed in its entirety.206 F.Supp.3d 22An appropriate Order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.--------Notes:1 The Court granted the parties' joint motion to consolidate Case N......
  • Mercy Gen. Hosp. v. Azar, Civil Action No. 16-99 (RBW)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 17 Octubre 2019
    ...5337 (emphasis added); see also Cmty. Health Sys., Inc. v. Burwell, 113 F. Supp. 3d 197, 220 (D.D.C. 2015) ; Winder HMA LLC v. Burwell, 206 F. Supp. 3d 22, 37 (D.D.C. 2016) (explaining that "the Secretary's policy in 1987 included ... [Board] decisions") (quoting Detroit Receiving......
3 cases
  • Mercy Gen. Hosp. v. Azar, Civil Action No. 16-99 (RBW)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 29 Septiembre 2018
    ...that these provisions existed prior to the Moratorium, "that fact does not end the inquiry." Winder HMA LLC v. Burwell, 206 F.Supp.3d 22, 37 (D.D.C. 2016). Rather, "[t]he question facing the Court[ ] [ ] is whether the Secretary's current understanding of ... th[e] [provision......
  • Maze v. Internal Revenue Serv., Civil Action Nos. 15-1806 (CKK)
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • 25 Julio 2016
    ...this case for want of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). This case is dismissed in its entirety.206 F.Supp.3d 22An appropriate Order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.--------Notes:1 The Court granted the parties' joint motion to consolidate Case N......
  • Mercy Gen. Hosp. v. Azar, Civil Action No. 16-99 (RBW)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 17 Octubre 2019
    ...5337 (emphasis added); see also Cmty. Health Sys., Inc. v. Burwell, 113 F. Supp. 3d 197, 220 (D.D.C. 2015) ; Winder HMA LLC v. Burwell, 206 F. Supp. 3d 22, 37 (D.D.C. 2016) (explaining that "the Secretary's policy in 1987 included ... [Board] decisions") (quoting Detroit Receiving......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT