Monday, November 23, 2009

Attempting to repay the piper

One of the less publicized portions of personal injury legal work occurs without the chasing of ambulances. This fun job responsibility is the process where we, as lawyers, negotiate down the liens held by insurance companies, medical providers or the government so that our clients end up walking away with more money from their settlement. And we can justify taking one third. Plus costs.

For those that think I am talking in gibberish, when you have an accident and your health insurance pays the bills for your care, the health insurance company can likely demand to be reimbursed if you are compensated. (I say this knowing that there are a lot of caveats and other things…but all I am asking is that you work with me here)

“Ah yes, Doctor Jones, you are entitled to $50,000, but you should take nothing and like it…”

Typically, we want stupid people doing the negotiating because, shockingly, we can take advantage of them with big lawyer words, martinis and a paisley tie get really good deals for our clients that way. The best example that I know of went something like this: my partner was negotiating with Medicare. At issue was a $200,000 lien that the federal government held on our client’s settlement. The negotiating strategy was complex: “Please…um…could our client keep her money?” The government, after listening to my partner’s folksy plea, buckled under the pressure.

And accepted $3,000 in full payment of the lien.

But the fact that there are a lot of idiots handling the lien claims cuts against us just as frequently. I’ve had a doctor yell at me because his bill wasn’t paid within a week of the settlement check arriving at our office. (The doctor was owed $140.00). Clients don’t understand how negotiating takes time. (It’s been three days since we’ve settled…what do you mean that you have to withhold the funds?!?). Business managers get offended when you ask for a reduction in the amount owed by the client. (Your client should be so lucky to have gotten any treatment for her injuries! Now pay us in full or we will go to court!)

What got me thinking about the idea of settlements, liens and all of this jazz was a phone call that I got late this afternoon. The call came from a lienholder servicing corporation [a collection agency with arrogance] that I have dealt with in the past. The phone calls with this group never end well:

Lienholder: Yes, I’m calling on behalf of XYZ Hospital and I want to know the status of the Jones settlement.
Me: Ok. Have you sent us a lien?
Lienholder: Absolutely.
Me: Looking through the file, it doesn’t seem that we received one. Can you send me another copy?
Lienholder: We already sent you one.
Me: I know that’s what you said, but I don’t have a copy of it. I’m not doubting you, but if I am going to work with this on you, I have to have an actual idea of what the lien says.
Lienholder: But we sent you one.
Me: Just send me another one, fax it, email it, doesn’t matter, I just need a copy.
Lienholder: You should already have a copy.
Me: All I am asking for is a copy.
Lienholder: I’ll just call back later.
Me: You realize I won’t have a copy of the lien unless you send it to me again.
Lienholder: [Hangs up]
Now remember, he wants me to pay him money. Let’s think if that is going to happen anytime soon.