In Robie v. Price, Dr. Robie successfully obtained a temporary restraining order prohibiting CMS from terminating his Medicare billing privileges prior to the exhaustion of his administrative remedies by the U.S. District Court for the Sothern District of West Virginia.
As most realize, exhaustion of administrative remedies is usually a prerequisite to further litigation for damages. In this case, Dr. Robie had clearly not completed the administrative appeals process provided by the Medicare rules, but successfully, albeit temporarily, prevented his exclusion based upon denial of constitutional due process. There are several key takeaways in this decision:
First, the Court concluded that the constitutional due process argument was entirely collateral to the Medicare administrative process and therefore conferred subject matter jurisdiction on the Court.
Second, although the Medicare program is usually construed as a benefit to Medicare beneficiaries, rather than to providing physicians a source of business or a private interest, the Court concluded that the damage to Dr. Robie’s practice and reputation would be so severe if he was excluded from Medicare, without due process, the TRO was appropriate. As a corollary to this damages holding, the Court also concluded that, due to the medically underserved nature of the geographic area, the patients would also be damaged by this potential denial of care.
Third, the Court concluded that these damages would be potentially irreparable, and that there was a threat of more harm to the physician and the patients than there would be to the government and the Medicare program if the TRO was granted.
It is important to note CMS had not alleged any significant wrong doing on behalf of the physician, certainly not any allegations involving quality of care or threat to patient safety. The underlying dispute centered around the sufficient production of Medicare records for CMS’ investigation. Without the allegations of significant potential patient harm, I believe the court was much more willing to grant the injunctive relief.
This is a well reasoned opinion and I commend it to you.