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Supreme Court Hears Medical Malpractice Settlement Case that May Affect Medicaid Recipients in Indiana and Nationwide

January 21, 2013 Medical Malpractice

1372512_pregnancy_close-up sxchu username kajrdjThe United States Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in a heated case between a Medicaid recipient and the State of North Carolina. In Delia v. E.M.A., a child born in February 2000 suffered extensive damages including blindness, deafness, and cerebral palsy in connection with her birth. According to her parents, the child, Emily Armstrong, was the victim of medical negligence. The obstetrician who delivered Emily, Dr. James A. Barnes Jr., reportedly had a history of prescription drug abuse and he voluntarily gave up his license to practice medicine three months after Emily was born. Due in large part to the severity of Emily’s medical needs following her birth, she became a recipient of federal Medicaid insurance administered by the State of North Carolina.

In 2003, Emily’s parents sued Barnes, the hospital at which Emily was born, and a number of other entities for medical malpractice. In 2006, the family settled the case for $2.8 million. Officials in North Carolina subsequently placed a lien on one-third of the settlement pursuant to a state law. The state placed the lien in an effort to recoup a portion of the estimated $1.9 million North Carolina purportedly spent on Emily’s medical care prior to the award. Emily’s family then challenged the North Carolina law by stating it conflicted with a federal Medicaid law that forbids a state government from placing a lien on a recipient’s property.

Previously, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the federal Medicaid Act’s property protections only apply to those portions of a medical malpractice settlement that are not meant to reimburse a patient’s medical costs. Unfortunately, the settlement in Emily’s case failed to specify what portion of the funds were based on the child’s medical expenses and what monies were awarded for other damages such as pain and suffering. According to North Carolina officials, the state should be allowed to determine how much of the settlement may be taken for Medicaid reimbursement.

The outcome of the case could have a dramatic effect on how states may claim money awarded to Medicaid beneficiaries following medical malpractice injuries. North Carolina and other state officials are reportedly concerned that if the case is decided in Emily’s favor, future medical malpractice settlements may be structured in a way that prevents states from seeking any reimbursement from Medicaid recipients. Eleven states have purportedly filed a formal brief in support of North Carolina’s position. The U.S. Department of Justice and the AARP have reportedly sided with Emily’s family.

Every year, thousands of Indiana residents suffer tragic injuries as a result of physician negligence. All medical professionals who treat patients in our state must provide a level of care that meets or exceeds the accepted standards of practice for their profession. When a doctor, nurse, hospital, or other medical provider fails to meet that standard of care and a patient is harmed, a medical malpractice claim may arise. If your child suffered a devastating birth injury due to the negligent act of an Indiana medical provider, you should contact a skilled personal injury lawyer to discuss your rights.

More Blogs:

Hospital Negligence May Lead to Serious Fall Injuries for Senior Citizens in Indiana and Nationwide, Indiana Medical Malpractice Attorney Blog, January 6, 2013

Increased Transparency and Accountability Could Reduce Medical Mistakes in Indiana Hospitals, Indiana Medical Malpractice Attorney Blog, November 5, 2012

Additional Resources:

Supreme Court case involves medical malpractice awards, Medicaid, Michael Doyle, Miami Herald

Photo credit: kajrdj, Stock.xchng

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