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Supreme Court to rule on Medicaid, birth injury awards, part 2

In our last post we discussed how families who receive settlement money from a birth injury lawsuit or other medical malpractice case may be forced to give up some of those funds if they've received Medicaid to cover their medical costs. A case before the Supreme Court could dictate what families in New York, New Jersey and nationwide can expect from a birth injury settlement.

The family at the center of the case has been told it owes a portion of their $2.8 million medical malpractice award to their home state as reimbursement for $1.9 million in Medicaid assistance. A state law says the government is entitled to the money, but the family is arguing that law conflicts with a federal law that prevents state governments from imposing liens on the property of Medicaid patients -- and malpractice settlements are considered property.

Making the case even more complicated is a previous Supreme Court ruling that this federal ban only affects the part of the settlement that doesn't account for medical care. This might include compensation for pain and suffering or lost wages. But the settlement for the North Carolina family didn't include a categorical breakdown of payments for medical care and other damages. Not surprisingly, state officials want to have the final say in how much they can take from the settlement.

Several other states have backed North Carolina in its quest for one-third of the settlement money; the high court's decision will affect their Medicaid options, too. There's a concern among these states that those who win malpractice suits will attempt to categorize all of their settlement money as that awarded for pain and suffering. Supporting the family are the U.S. Department of Justice, AARP and countless attorneys who represent medical malpractice plaintiffs.

While it's not surprising that states want to collect whatever they can for the Medicaid funds they've supplied, the entire purpose of a medical malpractice lawsuit is to help those injured by a medical professional's errors survive for the rest of their lives. Medicaid rarely offers enough to accommodate the needs of someone injured by a severe medical error, and it's impossible to put a price on the pain and suffering of malpractice victims and their families. It's hoped that the Supreme Court will recognize the needs of these families and rule in their favor.

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

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