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Judge Dismisses Suit Brought by Plaintiffs Seeking to Opt Out of Medicare

3-17-2011 National:

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer dismissed a suit brought by a group of men seeking to cease their Medicare Part A coverage. In an opinion [.pdf] issued today, Collyer wrote that while the plaintiffs, which include former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, had a point that they are caught in a bind – the statute dictates that they can only opt out of Medicare Part A by forfeiting all of their Social Security retirement benefits – the court did not find that the government is required to provide a different way out.

The plaintiffs are three men over age 65 who want to opt out of Medicare coverage, arguing in their complaint that Medicare Part A coverage is inferior because of budget constraints and that staying enrolled in Medicare Part A could put their private coverage at risk. They also claim that they are entitled to less privacy under Medicare Part A coverage.

In the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the men claimed that the rules governing Social Security retirement benefits dictated that they could only pull out from Medicare coverage by forfeiting their Social Security benefits entirely. They argued that this statutory scheme is at odds with the Social Security Act and unconstitutional.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Social Security Administration were named as defendants. A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on Collyer's decision.

Frank Northam of Washington’s Webster Chamberlain & Bean represented the plaintiffs. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

Collyer wrote that she agreed the men are “trapped in a government program intended for their benefit,” but that the statutory scheme in question is legal, since the laws governing Medicare are clear that anyone entitled to Social Security retirement benefits is automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A when they turn 65.

Requiring a mechanism for Plaintiffs and others in their situation to “disenroll” would be contrary to congressional intent, which was to provide “mandatory” benefits under Medicare Part A for those receiving Social Security Retirement benefits,” she wrote.

Updated at 7:25 p.m. to identify former House Majority Leader Dick Armey as one of the plaintiffs. ..SOurce.. by Zoe Tillman

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