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The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2013 Seeks to Amend Federal Law

AMICUS UPDATE
United States Senate Bill 1529, the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2013, seeks to amend federal law to provide insurance benefits for federal employees in a same-sex domestic partnership and their domestic partners. The Act’s purpose is to offer the same benefits to employees in a same-sex domestic partnership, as statutorily provided for married federal employees and their spouses. Interestingly, the introduction of the bill presented an opportunity to add provisions to Section 402, “Health Insurance”, which attempts to modify Federal Employee Health Benefit (FEHB) laws and address recovery, preemption and jurisdictional issues faced by federal employee health plans seeking to enforce subrogation and reimbursement rights.

Regarding recovery, the bill states that a contract between the federal government and a federal employee plan carrier may require the carrier to make subrogation or reimbursement recoveries for benefits provided to federal employees.

The preemption provision currently found in federal statutes would be modified to express that not only the provisions of a federal employee plan contract but, also the federal statute (5 U.S.C. 8902), preempt state and local laws and regulations which relate to health insurance or any plan.
Finally, a new section would be added to the federal statutes to specifically state that federal district courts have exclusive jurisdiction over civil actions and claims arising under the FEHB statutes, except civil actions and claims against the United States within the exclusive jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

The recovery and preemption sections would take effect in the calendar year following the end of a six (6) month period beginning on the date of the enactment of the bill. It would appear that 2015 would be the earliest plan year those sections would apply. The jurisdiction section would take effect immediately upon enactment and would apply to all civil actions pending or filed on or after the date of enactment, regardless of when the injury or illness occurred.

United States House Resolution 3121, the American Health Care Reform Act of 2013, would repeal the Affordable Care Act, make changes to various health insurance laws, and most importantly for NASP members, modify medical liability laws. The bill creates a federal statute of limitations for medical lawsuits, limits damages and attorney fees, addresses punitive and future damages and specifically applies to subrogation claims arising out of a health care liability claim. A health care liability claim is defined as a claim against a “health care provider, health care organization or the manufacturer, distributor, supplier, marketer, promoter or seller of a medical product.”

The statute of limitations in the bill is the sooner of one (1) year after the claimant discovers, or through reasonable diligence should have discovered, the injury or three (3) years after the date of manifestation of the injury. The statute of limitations shall be tolled for the following: (1) fraud, (2) intentional concealment or (3) the presence of a foreign body not having any therapeutic or diagnostic purpose in the claimant. The bill also provides for specific tolling rules for minor claimants.

The bill would limit the amount of noneconomic damages to $250,000 and limit contingent attorney fees to 40% of the first $50,000, 33/13% of the next $50,000, 25% of the next $500,000 and 15% of any amount above $600,000.
Also, the bill would generally preempt any conflicting state law but also specifically supersede state laws providing for a greater amount of damages or contingency fees, a longer statute of limitations or reduced applicability or scope of periodic payments of future damages, as well as a state law which “prohibits the introduction of evidence regarding collateral source benefits or mandates or permits subrogation or a lien on collateral source benefits”. However, the bill does not preempt a state law which provides health care providers or organizations with greater protections from liability, loss or damages than those set forth in the bill. And, the bill does not preempt a state law which specifies a particular amount of compensatory or punitive damages that may be awarded in a health care lawsuit or any defense available to a party in a health care lawsuit.

District of Columbia Bill 339, which was enacted earlier in 2013, modifies the District’s workers’ compensation law. Previously, an injured private sector worker had 6 months from the date of injury in which to file suit against a third party who caused the employee’s injury. If the employee failed to file suit within 6 months, the right to file suit against the third party passed to the employer and its insurer. Bill 339 states that if the employer or its insurer does not file suit against the third party within the six (6) month period, the right to file suit reverts to the employee for the remainder of a 3 year statute of limitations.
Missouri House Bill 339 was enacted effective August 28, 2013. The bill prohibits an uninsured motorist from pursuing noneconomic damages against an at fault driver who is in compliance with the state’s financial responsibility laws.
However, the prohibition does not apply:
• If the at fault driver is proved to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol or is convicted of involuntary manslaughter or second degree assault; or
• If the uninsured motorist’s policy was terminated for failure to pay the premium and the uninsured motorist was not given notice of termination for failure to pay the premium at least 6 months prior to the time of the accident.

Also, in a lawsuit against an at fault driver who is in compliance with the state’s financial responsibility laws by an uninsured motorist, any aware to the uninsured motorist shall be reduced by the amount of the award designated for noneconomic damages and the trier of fact shall not be informed of the inability of the uninsured motorist to pursue or collect noneconomic damages. Finally, passengers in the uninsured motor vehicle are not subject to the recovery limitation.

Special thanks to Adrienne Johnson, CSRP and Senior Subrogation Strategist with Insurance Subrogation Group, for alerting the Amicus Committee to the Missouri Bill.

Kammy Poff, Amicus Chair

Joseph Willis, III, Legislative Affairs Chair