The application of the Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) law to clinical trial sponsors has long been a point of significant contention between sponsors and CMS, with CMS insisting (via subregulatory guidance, and a widely circulated letter) that clinical trial sponsors are like insurers, and thus subject to the law. In a positive development, however, Congress has now directed CMS to promulgate regulations addressing the circumstances under which CMS will exercise discretion not to impose civil monetary penalties (CMPs) for noncompliance with MSP insurer reporting requirements. This affords sponsors an important new opportunity to engage with CMS on this issue, and to request appropriate enforcement discretion.

On December 11, 2013, CMS released an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) soliciting comments on specific practices for which CMPs may or may not be imposed for failure to comply with MSP reporting requirements. Among other issues, CMS is seeking comments and proposals on mechanisms and criteria that it would employ to evaluate whether and when it would impose CMPs for noncompliance with MSP reporting requirements.

Although clinical trial sponsors are not mentioned in the ANPRM, CMS has expressly stated elsewhere that the MSP reporting requirements do apply to clinical trial sponsors.1 Specifically, CMS has taken the following position on clinical trial sponsors under the MSP reporting statute:

When payments are made by sponsors of clinical trials for complications or injuries arising out of the trials, such payments are considered to be payments by liability insurance (including self-insurance) and must be reported. The appropriate Responsible Reporting Entity (RRE) should report the date that the injury/ complication first arose as the Date of Incident (DOI). The situation should also be reported as one involving Ongoing Responsibility for Medicals (ORM).2

In sum, CMS views clinical trial sponsors, by virtue of any promise to pay for complications or injuries, as insurance companies, and subjects clinical trial sponsors to the same reporting obligations that liability insurers must meet. Failure to comply with the MSP reporting requirements can carry a CMP of $1,000 for each day of noncompliance, per individual, that should have been reported.3 Congress amended the MSP statute last year to afford CMS discretion with regard to whether to impose CMPs in instances of noncompliance.4 Prior to that, CMS had no such discretion. The purpose of the ANPRM is to solicit input for the circumstances under which CMS should exercise this discretion.

Clinical trial sponsors should consider whether they are prepared to comply with the MSP reporting requirements and face potential CMPs for failure to do so, or whether CMS should be urged not to impose CMPs on clinical trial sponsors. For example, clinical trial sponsors should consider whether they are prepared to:

  • Report to CMS all complications and injuries involving Medicare beneficiaries arising out of a clinical trial that they have agreed to pay for. This includes everything the sponsor has agreed to pay for; it is not limited to adverse events. For example, this could involve medications included in the study protocol and paid for by the sponsor that are intended to prevent or mitigate an anticipated adverse event.
  • For Medicare beneficiaries, collect and produce all of the data CMS requires to be reported, including identifiable information (such as patient name, social security number, date of birth, dates of incident, etc.), and all relevant ICD-9-CM/ICD-10-CM (International Classification of Diseases, Ninth/Tenth Revision, Clinical Modification) Diagnosis Codes describing the alleged injury/illness.
  • Potentially forgo Medicare reimbursement for routine costs associated with clinical trials, even though there is a national coverage determination (NCD) stating that CMS will pay.
  • Manage study subjects who are Medicare beneficiaries and who may be aggrieved because, as a result of the sponsor reporting their ICD-9-CM/ICD-10-CM codes to CMS pursuant to MSP, all their Medicare claims associated with those codes could be routinely denied during their participation in the study. 
  • Unblind clinical trials if necessary in order to satisfy reporting requirements.
  • Incur significantly increased administrative and financial costs to ensure compliance with MSP reporting. 
  • Incur the burden of complying with MSP reporting as both a clinical trial sponsor, and as a potential defendant in a product liability suit, if and when the investigational product is commercialized. This may include implementing complex and detailed processes in both the research and development, or the medical side of a company (for clinical trial sponsor reporting), and the legal department (for products liability reporting). Additionally, the former may be trial-specific, meaning that different internal processes for addressing MSP reporting may be needed for different trials. 
  • Refrain from offering to pay for research-related injuries in order to avoid triggering the MSP reporting requirements, even though this would likely result in the loss of Medicare beneficiaries as study subjects.
  • Pay a CMP of up to $1,000 per beneficiary per day for noncompliance.

The ANPRM presents the opportunity to explain to CMS that, because of the many complexities associated with imposing the MSP reporting requirements on clinical trial sponsors, CMS should not impose CMPs on clinical trial sponsors for failures to report.

The ANPRM is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-12-11/pdf/2013-29473.pdf. Comments to the ANPRM may be submitted in writing, or electronically at www.regulations.gov, on or before February 10, 2014.