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Botched caesarian-section leads to Supreme Court ruling

Posted on February 27th, 2013

Emily Armstrong is 12 years old. However, unlike most 12 year olds, Emily doesn’t play sports, stay up late on the phone or get in trouble for talking too much in school. Emily is deaf, blind, does not talk and is mostly immobile. She experiences seizures and occasionally requires suctioning of her airway, all because of negligence by the doctor who delivered her.

In 2006, Emily’s parents sued and received a $2.8 million settlement. Currently, North Carolina’s law notes that the state can claim one-third of a medical malpractice settlement. The state says that it has spent more than $1.9 million in Medicaid funds to provide care for Emily.

After the state began the quest for its one-third of the settlement, the Armstrong’s disputed the North Carolina reimbursement law, saying it conflicts with federal law. Federal law prohibits the state from imposing liens on Medicaid patients’ property. Since a medical malpractice settlement is considered property, it conflicts with a Supreme Court ruling that the ban on Medicaid liens applies only to the portion of a settlement. This portion doesn’t cover medical care, such as payments for pain and suffering.

In the Armstrong’s case, it isn’t specified how much is for medical care and how much is for other factors. The state officials believe they should be the ones to establish how much of the settlement they are entitled to.

The Armstrong’s lawyer, Christopher Browning Jr., noted “The threat that states may lose some Medicaid reimbursement funds would provide little comfort to the Medicaid beneficiary who is rendered homeless by a state statute that contravenes the Medicaid Act.”

The Court’s answer on when and how states can take a share of medical malpractice payments is expected in June.

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