A federal appellate court recently ruled that Anthem is required to pay Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles for about 75 emergency room visits from covered patients, according to Bloomberg Law.
The appeal centered on whether Anthem was required to cover services MLK Jr. Community Hospital rendered to employees of Budco Group, an Ohio company, when the hospital was assigned the patients’ benefit payments. Anthem is the administrator of Budco’s Employee Retirement Income Security Act plan, and the employees who received services at the hospital were beneficiaries of the plan.
Between 2015 and 2017, Budco employees visited MLK Jr. Community Hospital’s emergency room at least 75 times and assigned their benefits under the company’s ERISA plan to the hospital as a condition of receiving care. Instead of paying MLK Jr. Community Hospital, which was out of Anthem’s network, the insurance company paid the beneficiaries, forcing the hospital to attempt to recover payment from the beneficiaries. The Budco employees deposited payment into their personal accounts and did not send any of the benefit payments to the hospital.
The hospital sued Anthem and Budco in 2016, seeking benefit payments and declaratory relief. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the hospitals, and Anthem and Budco appealed.
On appeal, Anthem argued the case was blocked by a provision in its health plan that prevented patients from assigning their rights to third parties such as MLK Jr. Community Hospital, according to Bloomberg Law. The hospital argued that the “anti-assignment” provision did not bar assignments in this case.
In an unpublished split decision filed Oct. 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the hospital, holding that the language cited by Anthem allowed assignments to healthcare providers, including those that were out of network.
“The provision lists three entities other than the beneficiary that Anthem may pay directly. Providers are included among those entities,” the court stated. “In the same paragraph, and only two sentences later, the anti-assignment provision forbids beneficiaries from assigning benefits to ‘anyone else.’ This sentence restricting assignment must be read consistently with the entire paragraph, which concerns benefit payments to entities other than the beneficiary. Thus, we interpret the anti-assignment provision’s reference to ‘anyone else’ to permit assignments to those entities, including ‘providers.'”
Alternatively, the appellate court held that the anti-assignment provision is not part of the health plan documents.
“The anti-assignment provision is plainly not a benefit, and therefore the district court correctly determined it should not be incorporated as a description of the plan’s benefits,” the appellate court held.
In his dissenting opinion, Judge Daniel Collins said the anti-assignment provision is an express term of the documents that govern the Budco plan. He also disagreed with the majority’s alternative conclusion that the language of the anti-assignment provision did not bar the assignments that plan beneficiaries made to MLK Jr. Hospital.