This is a post about Medicare. Medicare is one of the banes of any lawyer who prosecutes or defends tort actions in which the issue in controversy is bodily injury. This is because we try to give the government money, but the government won't accept it.
Though in most important respects it's a mere entitlement, Medicare is, in the respects that matter to your lawyer, an actual insurance plan. That is to say, if you are a Medicare recipient (over 65 or disabled and on the public dole) and are negligently injured, incurring medical bills through the fault of another person or corporation, Medicare is "subrogated" to the extent of its payments on your behalf, allowing it to recover what it pays from any settlement or verdict you may receive. This is only fair, as absent the negligence, Medicare wouldn't have incurred the medical bills your treatment cost it. It. Us. The taxpayers.
It's fair because, if Medicare weren't around, you'd still have to pay back your doctors, hospitals, nurses, etc. for their work out of your recovery. Most private insurers are also subrogated. They're happy to accept this money. It helps them to reduce costs (and to make profits but most of the recovery is passed on to their customers in the form of lower premiums).
Only, as your lawyer, or even the bad guy's lawyer could tell you, Medicare is different. Medicare is coy. Medicare is cheap, because it's not willing to hire low wage temp-monkeys who can access a database, conveniently accessible by name and social security number, to tell the lawyers what it's owed. Lawyers who will then happily fork over the money, which I assure you is more than what the low wage temp-monkeys would cost. Lowering everyone's tax bills.
And yet, Medicare is willing to hire other temp-monkeys to send out letters on a monthly basis reminding those lawyers that they will be sued if they don't fork over Medicare's lien. The same lien whose amount Medicare won't tell them.
I just got a call from a plaintiff's lawyer with whom I settled a case over a year ago. He wants to know if I've heard from Medicare about the amount of the lien. "Nope. 'd'you?" "Nope." "You ought to call them again." "I did." "Do it again." "K."
This is a common problem. No, not common. Universal. Every plaintiff's and defense attorney handling insured negligence cases has it. Some of the money (many, many, many thousands of dollars) sitting in my trust account rightfully belongs to this guy's client. Some rightfully belongs to you, the taxpayer. But it's collecting interest for other people (sadly not me, as the interest in my trust account goes to a charity other than the Patrick Foundation for Lawyers Who Blog Too Much). All because the government won't hire someone who can answer a simple question: How much money do you want me to give you?