CMS to ‘Consider’ Expanding Its Review Process to Include Liability MSAs

June 10, 2016

In a News Alert released Thursday, June 9, 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced is considering expanding its voluntary Medicare Set-Aside Arrangements (MSA) amount review process to include the review of proposed liability insurance (including self-insurance) and no-fault insurance MSA amounts. CMS plans to work closely with the stakeholder community to identify how best to implement this potential expansion. CMS will provide future announcements of the proposal and expects to schedule town hall  meetings later this year.

The link to the alert can be found in the ‘What’s New’ section of the Medicare Coordination of Benefits and Recovery Overview page at


Signed in June, 1980,

42 U.S.C. §1395y(2)(A)) prohibits Medicare from making payment, except as provided in (B), for any item or service, to the extent that payment has been made, or can reasonably be expected to be made, under a workers’ compensation law or plan, an automobile or liability insurance policy or plan (including a self-insured plan), or no fault insurance.

42 U.S.C. §1395y(2)(B) – The Secretary may make payment under this title with respect to an item or service if a primary plan as described in Subparagraph (A) has not made or cannot reasonably be expected to make payment with respect to such item or service promptly. Any such payment shall be conditioned on reimbursement to the appropriate Trust Fund in accordance with the succeeding provisions of this subsection.

While statutory provisions included Liability cases, there were no LMSA guidelines .  As a result, actions taken to comply with the MSPA statutes in a Liability case ranged from extremely conservative to strategies that earned the LMSA environment its characterization as ‘The Wild West’.  Those who took the conservative route followed the CMS guidelines established for WCMSA.  Other strategies ranged from making the LMSA decisions based on the severity of the injury in a liability case to doing nothing.

CMS’s Review of LMSAs

With no established thresholds for CMS submission and review, those who took the conservative path followed WCMSA guidance and attempted to submit.  While certain of the CMS offices would review an LMSA, acceptance was random.  Eventually, with greater acceptance and use of the WCMSA portal, CMS began to reject LMSAs.  Submitters could make the effort to submit and obtain a letter of rejection.

While not a ‘safe harbor’, the attempt to submit was at least evidence of efforts to follow the guidelines.

CMS’s first attempt to address LMSAs

In June 2012, CMS began the process by releasing an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (CMS-6047-ANPRM) to solicit public comment on how to implement an MSP process for liability settlements.  The ANPRM received many public comments.

On August 1, 2013, CMS sent the NPRM to the OMB for their approval.  The NPRM was never made public because the OMB did not approve it, and on 10/8/2014, this last attempt at  ‘guidance’ surrounding Liability MSAs faded into the sunset whenCMS withdrew the NPRM.   The reasons for the OMB’s rejection of the proposal were never made public.

Where are we now?

With the Liability TPOC mandatory reporting threshold of $1,000 beginning January 1, 2015 (and the voluntary threshold of $300), the BCRC now has access to more data on Liability claims than ever.  And with the announcement of the CRC (Commercial Repayment Center) in October, 2015, and its singular focus on payer recovery, the BCRC has greater resources to pursue recovery with Liability settlements.  With this combination of information and resources, it would follow that the absence of documented evidence to show that Medicare’s interests have been considered when settling a liability claim might lead to financial exposure for all stakeholders in the process…. the perfect time to introduce ‘guidance’ for the LMSA.

Tower will continue to monitor associated news on this topic and will actively participate in the TownHall Meetings regarding this topic.

Lyrica – High Claim Cost Doesn’t Necessarily Mean High Dollar MSAs

January 13, 2016

opioid guidelines

Lyrica is one of the most widely prescribed ‘pain’ medications in the workers’ system. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most expensive. Add to that the fact that it is typically prescribed ‘off label’ for injured workers, and you’ve got a recipe for high claim cost.  But will this high dollar monthly drug spend translate to a high dollar MSA?

Lyrica’s 2016 price increase

Lyrica is among more than 100 drugs that saw price increases as of Jan. 1, 2016. Drug maker Pfizer said the company had raised the price by a whopping 9.4 percent this year. That follows the 20.5 percent increase in its average wholesale price just two years ago. With patent protection firmly in place, a generic version is not expected for at least two years.

While workers’ compensation stakeholders seek medical treatments that result in the best outcomes for injured workers, and off label drug use is common in both workers’ comp and group health, starting with an off-label medication is unnecessary. First-line therapy should be those medications that are FDA-approved for the patient’s condition.

Lyrica’s off label use

Lyrica is FDA approved for only a limited number of conditions, not chronic pain in general. The Food and Drug Administration has indicated the drug for pain associated with diabetic peripheral neuropathy, post-herpetic neuralgia, partial onset seizures, fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain associated with spinal cord injury.

If you have a claimant on Lyrica who does not have any of the above conditions, Medicare WILL NOT cover it — meaning that while you, the payer, may foot the bill as part of your monthly claim spend, Lyrica would NOT be included in the Medicare Set Aside should you move toward settlement. Many medical providers, as well as insurance carriers, are unaware that the medication is not covered by Medicare for off-label uses.

Tower MSA recently saved a client $179,000 after confirming Lyrica was being prescribed off-label and, therefore, should not be included in the MSA. That’s just one example of a high dollar claim cost that did not translate to a high dollar MSA projection.

What to do

Lyrica is just one of the many medications prescribed off-label in the workers’ compensation system. There are many others, like Lidoderm patches, Terocin cream, ACTIQ, Abilify…. all  extremely expensive drugs that are not decreasing in price anytime soon.

If you’re unsure as to whether a drug is being prescribed off label, contact Tower and ask the question.  If you’re considering settlement, you might also consider Tower’s Pre-MSA Triage.  This service identifies unnecessary/inappropriate treatment and recommends claim specific intervention strategies to optimize claim cost before the MSA.

Whether a recommended intervention involves clarification that a medication is being prescribed for an off label use,  contact with the treating physician to obtain discontinuation of medications not intended for long term use, or a complete physician peer review with peer to peer collegial dialogue, Tower’s MSP Automation Suite drives the process, tracking progress through completion. As a result, payers can better manage treatment and proactively lower their costs before discussions of the MSA ensue.


Never underestimate the value of a good doctor in optimizing claim outcomes.  Payers should identify good physicians through data analytical resources and tools, and not settle for mediocrity.   Next, work with your PBM to established and enforce pharmacy guidelines when authorizing treatment.  Finally,  be proactive in utilizing state jurisdictional options to avoid inappropriate treatment.

Optimal care, cost and compliance can be achieved.

Pre-MSA Triage Works!

November 17, 2015

medicare set asideInappropriate and/or unnecessary prescription drugs, along with recommended medical procedures that are recommended, but never performed, are all too common in workers’ compensation claims. Yet they are often overlooked when moving a claim to settlement. But a new tool is helping payers identify and address obstacles, saving millions of dollars in MSA and settlement costs. Several recent cases bear out the program’s success.

Tower MSA Partners developed this unique service to ensure MSAs include only accurate and appropriate medical and pharmaceutical treatment. The Pre-MSA Triage allows payers to stage claims for optimal outcomes by providing a snapshot of MSA exposure before the MSA. By following our recommended interventions, clients are achieving CMS approval of reduced MSAs, with reductions of more than 50% in many cases.

How it works

Tower analyzes 6 months of medical records to identify care and cost issues, including the projected MSA cost of a claim based on the current medical and pharmacy treatment regimen. The review also provides a snapshot view of the MSA exposure in a non-discoverable (not an MSA) format, and offers an overview of inappropriate, unnecessary treatment and cost drivers that may impact MSA and settlement. For example, the review may uncover denied injuries and/or body parts, recommended surgical procedures that were never pursued, spinal cord stimulators that were recommended but never evaluated, gaps in treatment dates, unrelated medications, and off-label drug usage.

We then recommend various interventions, such as physician peer review, clinical oversight and conditional payment searches/negotiations to effect improved outcomes and savings in the overall claim costs, frequently as much as 50 percent!

Example Case Study

Tower’s Pre-MSA Triage projected the MSA cost for a 46-year-old male at $1,300,000. More than $1,000,000 of the total projection was due to extended prescribing of both long and short acting opioids. Tower recommended a Physician Peer Review followed by direct dialogue with the treating physician. Agreement to wean was obtained in writing and Tower initiated its clinical nurse oversight service to track progress.

Through Tower’s MSP Automation Suite, developed and maintained internally, we were able to drive the weaning process with the physician through tracked monthly calls, and to guide the adjuster as to when discontinued medications should be blocked by the client’s PBM.

Upon finalization of the weaning process, Tower worked with defense to obtain the necessary written language from the treating physician to confirm discontinuation and remove past medications. The final MSA was submitted and approved by CMS for $210,641 – a savings of more than $1,000,000 from the original estimate!


The example provided here is one of many success stories we are seeing, and through our MSP Automation Suite, we’ve been able to manage the process from triage through final CMS submission and approval in a secure, digital environment. Whether handled internally by our team of nurses or through a formal intervention and peer dialogue by one of our physicians, our system drives every step in the process.

Many companies can identify problems, and some even make recommendations. At Tower, we believe the key to successful MSA outcomes is a proactive approach to identify, intervene and remain involved through closure.

CMS / WCRC Development Letters…. Essential Information or Delay Tactic?

January 17, 2014

In the most recent version of the WCMSA Reference Guide, released on November 6, 2013 (COBR-M11-2013-v2.0), CMS announced a series of changes that submitters should expect to see in the WCMSA review process. Of the changes announced, none appeared to have significant impact on submitter workflow as most were clarifications rather than actual changes in process.

At first glance, I found the updated guide info to be both relevant and helpful. Having a detailed explanation of the rationale and resources used to evaluate the WCMSA should be invaluable in creating an accurate cost projection. And having a clear understanding of when and why development letters might be requested should lead to a more comprehensive submission. It only follows that setting clear expectations up front should lead to better outcomes in both CMS acceptance and WCMSA turnaround time….. Right?

Unintended Consequences…. or Not?
Unfortunately, the outcome of the changes announced on November 6, 2013 has been nothing short of disastrous for WCMSA submitters, and for the carriers, employers and TPA’s they represent. Over the past 75 days, statistics across multiple companies show that 98% of the WCMSA’s submitted to CMS for review have not received final acceptance, all as a result of development requests that fall into one of the following 3 categories:

1. Requests for treatment records for co-morbid conditions unrelated to the workers’ compensation injury from primary care and other physicians (information that can only be obtained via written HIPAA patient consent);
2. Requests for ‘current’ treatment records, whether paid by the carrier or not, when there is clear evidence that the claimant hasn’t treated in months or even years (i.e. the information doesn’t exist);
3. Requests for ‘current’ medical records, pharmacy history, and an updated carrier payout that becomes a circuitous cycle in cases where the patient continues to treat;
In every situation, the submitter is told that the case will be closed within the allotted time period (usually 10 days) if the information is not received.

Early Responses and Explanations
When development requests initially surfaced in early November, 2013, our response was to contact CMS immediately and explain the issue. In every situation, however, our explanations were discarded. Whether we were asked to pierce the HIPAA veil to obtain unrelated information, or to provide medical records that didn’t exist, ‘No’ was not an acceptable response. As a result, less than 2% of all WCMSA’s submitted to CMS since November 1, 2013 have completed the WCRC review process and achieved CMS acceptance.

As we’ve watched cases being closed and re-opened multiple times, we’ve seen the 45-60 day turnaround times from last summer disappear completely. For the WCRC, however, a closure due to missing information places the burden back on the submitter and the case is technically complete. The WCRC’s statistics look great, yet they’ve accomplished nothing.

How are Payers Responding to the ‘Stalemate’?
So what does this mean to our clients? The business result of this dramatic increase in development requests is that many claims aren’t being settled. If settlement is pursued, either new language is generated to make final closure contingent on CMS acceptance, or the settlement is finalized for indemnity only, leaving medical open. What’s even more interesting, however, is the trend we’ve seen recently where certain payers are making the decision to move forward with settlement without CMS acceptance.

CMS Submission – What is Required vs. Recommended?
While it is our legal responsibility to protect Medicare’s interest, CMS has made it clear that WCMSA submission is recommended, not required. It remains to be seen how this will play out in the coming months, but the business question that is being pondered today is whether payers can fulfill their legal obligation under the MSP statute and move forward with settlement without CMS acceptance. By doing what is reasonable and putting forth our best efforts to allocate for future medical expenses, can we lay a foundation that will mitigate future exposure once the WCMSA amount is exhausted?

The information and experiences relayed here are not those of a single company or submitter. They are being felt across the industry and are being reviewed within NAMSAP (National Association of MSA Professionals), both at committee and board of director levels. Hopefully, this will lead to both discussion and direction from CMS.

Stay tuned…..