The Academy of Special Needs Planners (ASNP) hosted its Sixth Annual Conference March 8-10, 2012 in Memphis, Tennessee. Consistent with its prior conferences, ASNP and Conference Chairperson Michele Fuller provided an exceptional educational experience featuring preeminent speakers, valuable topics, quality handout materials, plus effective interaction with sponsors and exhibitors.
ASNP is one of three national associations of attorneys, the others being the Special Needs Alliance (SNA) and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), whose members engage in special needs planning. The primary difference between special needs planning and settlement planning is that special needs planning includes clients whose disabilities result from many causes including but not limited to personal injury or workers compensation accidents.
One of the highlights of the ASNP conference was a special introductory program titled "Basics of Special Needs Planning" presented by Fuller and two other nationally renowned special needs attorneys, Kevin Urbatsch and David Lillesand. This program addressed the core components of special needs planning (including the role of structured settlements), explained public benefits, and discussed the basics of special need trust (SNT) administration.
Structured settlements were also addressed by other ASNP presenters:
- Rene Reixach - During his presentation titled "Impact Litigation", Reixach highlighted continuing litigation whereby state Medicaid agencies are attempting to disqualify SNTs funded with structured settlements arguing the existence of the secondary market makes structured settlement annuities "saleable" and therefore "countable" as an "available resource".
- Eric Skidmore - Skidmore, a Supervisor in the Office of SSI and Representative Payee Policy at the Social Security Administration (SSA), provided a "Social Security Update" during which he reconfirmed an unpublished SSA position supporting what Reixach reported - i.e. the SSA believes the existence of the secondary market renders structured settlement annuities "available resources" that potentially disqualify special needs trusts beneficiaries from receiving Medicaid.
- Jason Lazarus - Speaking about "Liability MSAs", Lazarus reconfirmed the current cost advantages of funding Medicare Set-Aside arrangements (MSAs) with structured settlement annuities as opposed to cash. His presentation included structured settlement case examples that underscored this cost advantage.
One glaring omission that characterizes most national structured settlement and settlement planning conferences is the surprising lack of attention paid to real life problems and issues experienced by persons with disabilities and their families. The 2012 ASNP conference emphasized these real life problems and issues with three valuable presentations:
- Annette Hines and Linda Brown - Hines and Brown, both special needs attorneys whose families include persons with disabilities, spoke about "Transition Planning" - the change in status for disabled persons from behaving as a student to assuming emergent adult roles in the community. Subtopics discussed: a "Day in My Life" from a parents' perspective; myths about special needs planning; transition agencies; disability support systems; selecting trustees and guardians; role of guardians; personal budgets; housing options including Section 8 qualification and the rent vs.buy decisions; plus group home issues including expense sharing.
- Vincent Russo and Michael Amoruso - Russo and Amoruso presented a series of video vignette interviews of families with disabled persons in their discussion titled "Creating the Right Plan for the Right Situation." Each of the interviews originally appeared on the television show "Family Comes First" for which Russo serves as a host. After the ASNP audience watched each interview, Russo and Amoruso asked questions and offered observations to help ASNP conference attendees learn to differentiate individuals and families on the basis of such issues as: independence; information needs and overloads; life visions; and legal capacity. They emphasized the need to make special needs trusts responsive to specific family situations.
- Harry Margolis and Jerry Hulick - Margolis and Hulick discussed a special needs case study from a financial perspective that emphasized the role of life insurance. Note: although life insurance companies feature prominently in both the special needs and structured settlement markets, there appears to be almost no overlap among agents distributing their products even though both markets focus on disabled individuals and their families.
Another glaring omission to date at national structured settlement and settlement planning conferences has been the lack of educational inquiry about how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [Affordable Care Act (ACA) - aka Health Care Reform] impacts their customers, their products and their traditional business models. The justification for this educational omission may be the uncertainty resulting from the current constitutional review of the ACA by the United States Supreme Court.
Fortunately, the ASNP has not been paralyzed educationally by this constitutional uncertainty. At the ASNP 2011 Annual Meeting, Cynthia Barrett offered her introductory analysis of how Health Care Reform impacts persons with disabilities. At the ASNP 2012 Annual Meeting, David Lillesand discussed how the prohibition against "pre-existing condition" exclusions mandated by the ACA (already in effect in 22 states) impacts special needs legal practice generally and self-settled (first party) special needs trusts specifically.
In summary, based upon his experience in Florida, where the ACA's prohibition against pre-existing exclusions currently exists, Lillesand believes:
- The need for self-settled (first party) special needs trusts has decreased (except when a beneficiary requires long term institutional care) because the ACA provides better insurance options than Medicaid for many persons with pre-existing medical conditions including personal injury victims.
- Existing self-settled (first party) special needs trusts should be reviewed, in the context of the ACA's prohibition against pre-existing condition exclusions and available medical insurance options, and in many cases terminated.
- Damages for future medical costs in personal injury lawsuits could be reduced assuming the premium costs of newly available insurance premiums become admissible in proving and/or defending damages.
Apropos to transition planning for persons with disabilities and terminating special needs trusts, Travis Finchum, Fuller and Urbatsch spoke about "Trust Transitions" - what to do when your bank trustee doesn't want you anymore or you don't want them? Their subtopics included: "the dark side of pooled trusts"; security of funds managed by individual trustees and pooled trusts; trust protectors; questions to ask potential private professional trustees; fiduciary certification and standards; plus discussion and analysis of trust provisions and revision issues.
To help ASNP attendees improve their legal practice, Steve Riley addressed "Key Strategies for Growing Your Practice and One Sure Fire Way to Kill It". The killer, according to Riley: "Inertia - which is easy; but change is hard" - which is also a good lesson for structured settlement and settlement planning stakeholders.
Congratulations to Chairperson Michele Fuller, the speakers and exhibitors for another outstanding ASNP educational conference. For S2KM's reporting about prior ASNP educational conferences, see the structured settlement wiki.