(thanks to JDalton for posting this earlier in a diary at Daily Kos)
Because Wal-Mart did this —
A collision with a semi-trailer truck seven years ago left 52-year-old Deborah Shank permanently brain-damaged and in a wheelchair. Her husband, Jim, and three sons found a small source of solace: a $700,000 accident settlement from the trucking company involved. After legal fees and other expenses, the remaining $417,000 was put in a special trust. It was to be used for Mrs. Shank’s care.
Instead, all of it is now slated to go to Mrs. Shank’s former employer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Two years ago, the retail giant’s health plan sued the Shanks for the $470,000 it had spent on her medical care. A federal judge ruled last year in Wal-Mart’s favor, backed by an appeals-court decision in August. Now, her family has to rely on Medicaid and Mrs. Shank’s social-security payments to keep up her round-the-clock care.
“I don’t understand why they need to do this,” says Mr. Shank on a recent visit to the nursing home, between shifts as a maintenance worker and running a tanning salon. “This girl needs the money more than they do.” Mrs. Shank, who needs help with eating and other basic tasks, spends more time alone since Mr. Shank had to let her private caregiver go. At some point, he says, she may have to be moved from a private to a semi-private room in the nursing home where she lives.
The reason is a clause in Wal-Mart’s health plan that Mrs. Shank didn’t notice when she started stocking shelves at a nearby store eight years ago. Like most company health plans, Wal-Mart’s reserves the right to recoup the medical expenses it paid for someone’s treatment if the person also collects damages in an injury suit.
Sly devils, eh? Isn’t this the same company that took out life insurance policies on its employees (unbeknownst to their families) and collected when they died? Wal-Mart apparently isn’t alone. The Wall Street Journal continues with a businesslike explanation:
Until recently, many employers didn’t vigilantly enforce the provision, and some states and federal courts didn’t think the claim held water. But as the cost of covering workers continues to escalate, employers and health plans are getting more aggressive about going after the money. A Supreme Court ruling last year also has given them a clearer legal map to suing employees and winning.
Thank you Mister Roberts et. al. The business logic continues:
In insurance circles, the recovery practice is called “subrogation.” Employers and insurers say it’s necessary to ensure that medical expenses aren’t paid twice. By recovering those costs from someone who’s been compensated elsewhere, they argue, they’re saving money for everyone on the plan.
Okay. We’ve heard the businesslike capsule explanation, the capsule business logic — all we’re missing is the public relations spin. Wait a minute…
Sharon Weber, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, declined to discuss the details of the Shanks’ case, but said the company was obliged to act in the interest of the health benefits of its employees as a whole. “While the case involves a tragic situation, our responsibility is to follow the provisions of the [company health] plan which governs the health benefits of our associates,” she said.
“Employers are trying to make sure these plans run as efficiently as possible,” says Jay Kirschbaum, a senior vice president at global insurance broker Willis Group Holdings. “They also have a fiduciary duty to the plan and the entire group of employees that are covered by it.”
So there, Mrs. Shank. Trying to have a caregiver feed you when there’s a whole bunch of employees paying premiums. That’ll teach you.
Subrogation. It recalls the words of the prophet Amos (8:5b-6):
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practise deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.