Personal injury settlement planning and special needs planning represent two overlapping professions undergoing transformation and expansion as complex new legislation, regulations and case law interact to redefine their legal environment.
In addition to studying these new laws, settlement planners and special needs planners must address their impact on fundamental issues such as "know your client", "needs analysis", "best practices", "industry standards" and "product suitability", as well as "professional responsibility, qualifications and liability".
For the past eight years, the Academy of Special Needs Planners (ASNP) has sponsored some of the best educational programs addressing these laws and issues. The ASNP 2014 Annual Conference, which took place March 27-29 in Denver, was no exception.
Among other topics, the ASNP 2014 Conference expanded previous ASNP educational programs about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA aka "Obamacare"). ASNP's conference coincided with news the ACA has exceeded enrollment expectations and achieved its primary objective of substantially expanding healthcare in America:
- More than 7.1 million previously uninsured Americans purchased health insurance prior to the March 31, 2014 enrollment deadline; and
- Three million additional Americans enrolled in the ACA's expanded Medicaid coverage between October 1, 2013 (the start of the ACA's open enrollment period) and February 28, 2014 (the most recent figures available).
Although ACA political debate will continue, it is past time for settlement planners, including structured settlement professionals, and special needs planners to analyze how the ACA impacts their clients, their work product and their business model.
ASNP's 2014 conference featured two ACA presentations:
- A multi-professional "ACA Panel" consisting of: David Lillesand (attorney); Ann Koerner (life care planner); and Scott McDonald (investment adviser).
- "Special Needs Trust (SNT) Taxation" discussion by Bradley Frigon - focusing on strategies for maximizing health care coverage and minimizing costs.
Both ACA presentations highlighted the importance of health insurance education and the need for health insurance expertise as part of the settlement planning and/or special needs planning team. Some of the ACA resources and issues addressed:
- ACA's definition of "health insurance" - 10 key requirements.
- The ACA's definition of "modified adjusted gross income" (MAGI) - to determine eligibility for ACA premium tax credits and Medicaid expansion.
- Calulating MAGI - and whether structured settlements are included or excluded.
- ACA assessment questions - and how they expand "needs analysis".
- ACA flowchart - for determining the proper plan under the ACA.
- When to use a SNT vs. purchasing ACA insurance - four alternative strategies.
- Defining the settlement planning process.
- ACA's financial impact on settlement planning.
- Lump sums vs. structured settlements under the ACA.
- Coverage comparisons - based upon types of provider networks, services and authorization requirements.
- Coverage gaps - in states that do not adopt Medicaid expansion.
David Lillesand also provided a comprehensive overview of "Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Regional Chief Counsel (RCC) Opinions" for first and third party SNTs, non-SNT asset transfers and resources exclusions. Lillesand's handouts included his own 714 page guide with every RCC opinion by state through March 3, 2014 organized by subject matter with a table of contents, index, one paragraph opinion summaries and hyperlinks to the actual text. Nine of these RCC opinions address structured settlement issues including problems involving minors and re-assignment of payment rights.
In leading a discussion about "SSI/POMS Changes", Theresa Varnet announced the formation of a new SSI Advocacy Committee, consisting primarily of special needs attorneys, which has begun meeting with Social Security Administration (SSA) representatives to identify and address various problematic SSI and SNT issues. As part of this project, the SSA is seeking input from a broad spectrum of disability advocates including members of the Arc, ASNP, NAELA, SNT, the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities and representatives of pooled income SNTs.
Blaine Brockman and Patricia Kefalas Dudek spoke about "Housing, Food Assistance, Employment Benefits" - critical topics for many people with disabilities which are rarely addressed at structured settlement and settlement planning educational conferences. Their presentation and handout materials summarized "the complicated labyrinth of federal code, federal regulations, state regulations and local administrative decision making" which comprise affordable housing law and create "programs that are shamefully underfunded, dramatically understaffed, and obviously needed by many more people than they serve." Additional topics:
- The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) - formerly known as the "Food Stamp" program.
- Medicaid expansion and buy-in programs - which allow disabled persons to work and receive Medicaid.
- Vocational rehabilitation services and work incentives.
Sharon Pope (who also chaired this year's ASNP Conference with ASNP National Director Kevin Urbatsch) and Michele Fuller, provided complementary discussions about "SNT Administration" issues. Pope's presentation addressed "Law Firm Trust Departments" - with attorneys acting as trustees. Her handouts included example outlines for SNT "needs analysis" checklists and "personal care plans". Fuller spoke about the "Expanding Duty of Attorneys to Non-Clients". Her presentation highlighted recent cases and her handouts included numerous related articles.
- Review of Windsor and related marriage litigation.
- Same sex couple Special Needs Practice Checklist - emphasizing, similar to health care, the importance of state specific analysis.
- Medicaid planning techniques where marriage/parentage status must be established.
- SSA analysis for minor/disabled children of gay couples.
- Practice guide for same sex couples facing a Medicaid crisis.
- Veterans aid and surviving spouse benefits for same sex couples.
In addition to featured speakers and their presentation handouts, the following ASNP sponsors and exhibitors added to the educational value of ASNP's 2014 Conference:
- Morgan Stanley
- Guardian Trust
- Elder Counsel
- National Care Advisors
- Krause Financial Services
- Elder Law Answers
- Evolve Bank and Trust
- Midland States Bank
- Stewart Home & School
For S2KM reporting about prior ASNP conferences, as well as other structured settlement and settlement planning conferences, see the structured settlement wiki.