Court of Federal Claims Finds HHS Offset Invalid Under Colorado’s Insurance Liquidating Priority Scheme
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (HHS) operates the reinsurance and risk-adjustments program for Colorado, including the application of the “netting rule” — a method by which it would aggregate and offset money owed by or to different insurers under various Affordable Care Act (ACA) payment programs. Colorado Health Insurance Cooperative Inc. ran into financial difficulties and was put into liquidation. According to the liquidator, the HHS would offset $20,255,084 of the amount the HHS owed Colorado Health under the risk-adjustment program against $21,775,432 that Colorado Health owed the HHS under the risk-adjustment program. Ultimately, the liquidator sent the HHS a claims-determination letter, disallowing the HHS’ claims and requesting a return of all unauthorized offsets. The HHS did not timely object under Colorado law and, upon the liquidator’s motion, a Colorado court affirmed the liquidator’s claim determination.
The liquidator then sued the HHS, alleging that (1) the HHS failed to make obligatory payments under the reinsurance program; and (2) the HHS’ offset of payments it owed to Colorado Health violated Colorado law and was therefore invalid.
As a threshold matter, the court held that the ACA does not prohibit offset otherwise allowed under federal common law or state law, and dismissed the first cause of action as it did not provide an independent basis for relief. As to the second cause of action, the court held that the HHS’ offset was invalid under Colorado’s insurance liquidation priority scheme. “Because neither the ACA nor another statute authorizes the Netting Rule’s application in the insurance liquidation context, HHS must have taken its offset in its capacity as a creditor. Although federal law governs HHS’s rights as a creditor in implementing the nationwide reinsurance and risk-adjustment programs, its interest in uniformity is insufficient to warrant this Court creating a federal common law rule to displace Colorado’s insurance liquidating priority scheme.”
Conway v. United States, No. 18-1623 (Fed. Cl. Oct. 3, 2019).