Court: HHS can't delay Medicare appeals backlog case

The Department of Health and Human Services won't be able to push off litigation over its overwhelming backlog of Medicare appeals, a federal court ruled on Monday.

The HHS had asked to stay the litigation, which was filed by the American Hospital Association and three other hospital organizations, until Sept. 30, 2017. That delay would allow the agency to move ahead on administrative and legislative efforts designed to tackle the backlog of more than 700,000 appeals, including a set of strategies proposed in June, HHS said.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia's ruling denied the HHS' motion to stay the litigation, shooting down the agency's proposed fixes as “impressive-sounding action items” that won't do much to curb the backlog as it grows to more than 1 million appeals in fiscal year 2020.

“The best medicine can sometimes be hard to swallow,” wrote Judge James E. Boasberg. “... the backlog and delays have only worsened since [HHS] first sought the Court's help, and the Secretary's proposed solutions are unlikely to turn the tide.”

In addition to denying the HHS' request, the court turned down the hospital groups' recommendation that it order the agency to resolve the appeals.

“The Court, however, does not possess a magic wand that, when waved, will eliminate the Backlog,” Boasberg wrote. “Plaintiffs' suggestion that the Court simply order HHS to resolve each of the pending appeals by the statutorily prescribed deadlines is extremely wishful thinking.”