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Supreme Court to rule on Medicaid, birth injury awards, part 1

There are few more devastating experiences parents can have than dealing with a debilitating birth injury caused by a doctor's mistakes. Not only do birth injuries such as cerebral palsy result in a tremendous loss of quality of life for the child, but these injuries tend to be permanent and severe, requiring lifelong dependent care that is usually well beyond a family's financial means.

New York and New Jersey families dealing with a child's birth injury often rely on Medicaid and other public assistance programs to offset the tremendous costs of the child's medical needs. Many also choose to file medical malpractice lawsuits, which can greatly ease their financial burden. But as some of these parents have discovered, if Medicaid covers many of their costs, the state that provides this financial assistance may seek some of the malpractice award as reimbursement. Is this fair and legal? If so, how much should a state be able to take from a family who may desperately need the malpractice award to cover their expenses? We'll discuss this issue in two parts.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue based on an individual birth injury case dating back to February 2000. The cesarean-section birth of a girl in North Carolina went horribly wrong, leading to such severe cerebral palsy that the girl, now 12, is unable to see, hear, speak or even crawl. Her parents sued the medical center and the doctor -- who surrendered his medical license a few months after the birth -- in 2003 and three years later, won a settlement of $2.8 million.

But state health officials in North Carolina, claiming they'd spent at least $1.9 million in Medicaid funds for the girl's care, have argued that the state should receive some of the settlement money as reimbursement. A state law allows North Carolina to claim a portion of malpractice payments -- specifically, the lesser amount of either the total amount paid through Medicaid, or one-third of the medical malpractice payment imposed by the court. In this case, the state is asking for one-third of the malpractice settlement.

In our next post, we'll discuss the family's objections to the state law and how their case reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Source: McClatchyDC.com, "Supreme Court case involves medical malpractice awards, Medicaid," Michael Doyle, Jan. 7, 2013

  • Our firm handles birth injuries and other medical malpractice cases for residents of New York and New Jersey. To learn more about our practice, visit our Newark birth injury page.

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