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Insurance liens case awaits word on request for U.S. high court review

After a recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling, a potential class action lawsuit over insurance liens is heading forward in St. Louis County Circuit Court — unless the U.S. Supreme Court decides to have a say.

The state high court ruled Feb. 4 that, under Missouri law, people who hold federal insurance can’t be forced to pay back the insurer for their medical bills if they get another settlement.

St. Louis County resident Jodie Nevils was a federal employee with insurance through Group Health Plan Inc., an insurer for federal employees. Group Health paid Nevils’ medical bills after he was injured in a car accident. Additionally, Nevils received a personal injury settlement from the party responsible for the accident.

Group Health sought reimbursement of $6,592 out of Nevils’ settlement, but he argued that Missouri law prohibits this practice, known as subrogation. Nevils paid the lien, then filed a class action petition against GHP.

A 1996 decision out of the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District, Buatte v. Gencare Health System, found that Missouri’s law against subrogation was pre-empted by the Federal Employee Health Benefits Act. The Missouri Supreme Court overruled the case and said Missouri’s law was not pre-empted by federal law.

The case was remanded to St. Louis County, where it is pending before Judge Thea Sherry. The plaintiffs hope to certify the class, but Group Health — now known as Coventry Healthcare of Missouri — has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. It’s not clear whether or when the court would consider taking up the issue.

If the high court doesn’t take the case, Sherry is scheduled to hold a hearing on the matter Dec. 3.

The trial court case is Nevils v. Group Health Plan Inc. et al., 11SL-CC00535-02. The U.S. Supreme Court case is Coventry Health Care of Missouri Inc. v. Nevils, 13-1305.