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Justices split on discounted medical expenses

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In a ruling about whether insurance discounts can be used to determine reasonable medical expenses, two Indiana Supreme Court justices say their colleagues have created a new rule that is "incomplete, misleading, and unfair" and will add "layers of complexity, time, and expense to personal injury litigation, impairing the efficient administration of justice."

In its 3-2 decision Wednesday afternoon in Brandon Stanley v. Danny Walker, No. 41S01-0810-CV-539, the majority held that those discounted benefits can be used to determine what's reasonable and actually paid by plaintiffs seeking damages for their injuries. That issue gives the court a chance to catch up with the modern managed health-care world.

Justice Frank Sullivan authored the opinion in the Johnson County case regarding a 2004 vehicle accident in which Danny Walker sustained injuries and ultimately received treatment from 11 different medical providers. He filed a negligence complaint against Brandon Stanley to recover incurred medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering; Stanley admitted negligence before trial and the case proceeded on the damages issue.

The injured plaintiff, Walker, introduced medical bills totaling the original billed amount of $11,570; however he didn't show the $4,750 that was ultimately discounted by an agreement between the medical service providers and Walker's health insurer bringing the medical costs for which he and the insurance company were responsible to $6,820.

Disputing the originally billed amount because of the discounts, Stanley asked the trial court to admit the discounted medical bills totaling $6,820 into evidence, but Walker argued that violated Indiana's collateral source statute, Indiana Code § 34-44-1-2, which prohibits the introduction of "insurance benefits" evidence in personal injury cases. The court agreed and didn't allow the evidence, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in a decision last year that followed a $70,000 general verdict in Walker's favor.

In its ruling, the Indiana Supreme Court majority affirmed the judgment but remanded for the trial court to reduce the damage award by $4,750. The court noted that if Walker will not accept the reduction, he is free to retry the issue of damages before another jury.

Justice Sullivan adopted the approach in the Ohio Supreme Court decision of Robinson v. Bates, 857 N.E.2d 1195, 1200 (Ohio 2006), which held that a jury may determine the reasonable value of medical services is the amount originally billed, the amount accepted as payment, or some amount in between. That state's common law "collateral source rule" wasn't applicable to discounted bills because they weren't payments from a third party to the plaintiff, the court decided.

"We find this to be the fairest approach; to do otherwise would create separate categories of plaintiffs based on the method used to finance medical expenses," Justice Sullivan wrote, noting that parties can also introduce evidence and witnesses to show billed and paid amounts don't represent the reasonable value.

But Justices Brent Dickson and Robert Rucker dissented, saying the majority's holding contravenes the express requirements of Indiana's collateral source statute and is an "unfair and undesirable judicial policy."

With this rule, juries will receive a "distorted, misleading, and incomplete picture unless they are also able to consider the pecuniary value of all the benefits conferred upon health care providers in their symbiotic exchange with medical insurers," Justice Dickson wrote in his 9-page dissent. "... A new level of discovery will be needed to determine and quantify the value to providers. Plaintiffs will be required to expend considerable resources to marshal and present such evidence, thereby prolonging trials. New appellate issues will result.  ...

"This all seems very unnecessary," he wrote.

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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