During the late 1970s, and throughout the 1980s, when defendants retained exclusive control of structured settlements, many brokers and their liability insurance company clients referred to unsuccessful sales as "cash outs". Their professional interests and curiosity were narrowly defined and focused upon their own product to the exclusion of other settlement related products and services.
With the advent of plaintiff structured settlement brokers, continuing legislative and regulatory developments, plus an expanding array of settlement planning professionals, products and product providers, structured settlements are now viewed by most stakeholders as a subset of the larger and more complex personal injury settlement planning market.
For future success, a new generation of structured settlement leaders must look beyond structured settlements and learn to re-position their product as a fundamental and catalytic settlement planning component. This strategic adjustment requires a more comprehensive understanding of, and interaction with, other professional associations whose members also provide settlement planning products and services.
During 2014, S2KM attended 13 national educational conferences sponsored by such professional associations. What follows are 2014 summaries, from a settlement planning perspective, of the educational programs offered by these professional associations plus links to related S2KM reporting. Prior S2KM blog posts provide 2014 summaries of the primary and secondary structured settlement markets. A subsequent S2KM blog post will summarize continuing 2014 developments related to ELNY and Reliance.
American Association for Justice (AAJ)
The role of personal injury attorneys historically has encompassed settlement planning and negotiation as well as litigation. As settlement planning has become increasingly complex, however, personal injury attorneys now require the services of other settlement planning professionals including: tax attorneys, special needs attorneys, settlement trustees, financial planners, structured settlement specialists, life care planners, case managers, economists, Medicare set-aside (MSA) specialists and damage allocators.
Regardless of case complexity, plaintiff attorneys continue to perform the following essential settlement planning roles:
- Recognizing settlement planning issues which impact their clients;
- Recommending appropriate settlement planning professional resources to their clients; and
- Retaining ultimate responsibility for effectuating settlements.
As one result, plaintiff attorneys represent the primary marketing target for for companies and professionals offering settlement planning services. Seven primary market brokers, one structured settlement annuity provider and one factoring company were among the 141 sponsors and exhibitors at the AAJ 2014 Annual Conference which also included companies offering lien resolution, MSA compliance, life care planning, legal finance and economic consulting services.
Notable features of the 2014 AAJ conferences:
- AAJ's educational programs focused on litigation issues with no structured settlement, no Affordable Care Act (ACA) and almost no settlement planning presentations.
- Exhibiting structured settlement brokers shared one distinguishing characteristic - their product and service offerings extended far beyond traditional structured settlements.
Society of Settlement Planners (SSP)
SSP is a professional association most of whose members are plaintiff structured settlement brokers. SSP's 2014 Annual Conference provided three important contributions to settlement planning.
First, SSP President Neil Johnson's SSP keynote speech, which he repeated at NSSTA's Fall Conference, highlighted continuing polarization among structured settlement professionals and proposed the following solutions: 1) recognizing and accepting product diversity; 2) focusing on client and customer service; 3) identifying and pursuing permanent shared interests without necessarily agreeing on all issues; 4) engaging all perspectives to discuss industry problems and issues; 5) improving relationships among stakeholder groups; 6) promoting and practicing settlement planning not settlement selling.
Second, consistent with Johnson's proposed unification solutions, SSP's Secondary Market Panel featured two leading structured settlement transfer experts whose clients typically oppose each other in secondary market cases: NASP Executive Director Earl Nesbitt and Stephen Harris, former co-Chairman of NSSTA's legal committee.
Third, SSP speaker Michele Fuller identified her list of 2014 settlement planning "game changers" as a baseline for industry discussion:
- Affordable Care Act.
- Lien resolution statutory and regulatory developments.
- Federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
- Wrongful death caps determined unconstitutional.
- State and federal tax reform.
- Potential reductions in social security benefits.
- MSAs in liability cases.
- Settlement planning goes cyber.
- Increasing need for Qualified Settlement Funds.
- Increasing number of persons with disabilities.
Related Resources - SSP 2014 Annual Conference
National Structured Settlement Trade Association (NSSTA)
By inviting NASP President Patricia LaBorde and SSP President Neil Johnson to speak at its members-only 2014 Fall Educational Conference, NSSTA took a symbolic step toward restoring its original vision as articulated by David Ringler, NSSTA's first president: "a place where everyone and anyone can sit down with each other and discuss the issues and viewpoints regardless of beliefs is the most important reason for NSSTA."
For the past several years, NSSTA's leadership has superimposed a political litmus test for membership, as well as for topics and speakers at its educational conferences. NSSTA's near-sighted strategy has limited the potential growth of structured settlements within the larger and more complex settlement planning market and created multiple challenges for the next generation of structured settlement leaders.
Structured settlements, however, represent a core settlement planning product with emerging product improvements and nontraditional products demonstrating the potential for settlement planning market expansion. In addition, NSSTA's Fall conference underscored, and re-enforced, NSSTA's and NSSTA members' strategic settlement planning relationship knowledge about and with: 1) plaintiff attorneys; 2) insurance associations; 3) insurance claims adjustors; 4) national consumer associations; 5) U.S. Congressional members; and 6) MSA administrators - as well as with SSP and NASP.
- NSSTA 2014 Fall Educational Conference
- Potential "Game Changing" Structured Settlement PLR
- Structured Settlements 2014 - Primary Market
National Association of Settlement Purchasers (NASP)
Assuming settlement planning includes adjustments during an injury victim's lifetime, structured settlement transfer (factoring) companies should be included among settlement planning participants. Like NSSTA, its primary market counterpart, NASP and its members face serious challenges which NASP president Patricia LaBorde acknowledged during NASP's 2014 Annual Conference.
"There are some forces working against us right now" Laborde stated, "and we need to remain diligent so our customers (structured settlement recipients who sell payment rights to NASP member companies) continue to have access to liquidity." These "negative" forces include predicted secondary market "chaos" resulting from the Washington Square v. RSL case as well as market restrictions resulting from anti-assignment lawsuits.
Shared educational dialogue among representatives of NASP, NSSTA and SSP during 2014 appear to support the possibility of increasing primary and secondary market integration as predicted by Peter Arnold during his NASP conference presentation.
Academy of Special Needs Planners (ASNP)
ASNP is one of three national associations of attorneys whose members practice special needs (SN) planning. SN planning encompasses individuals with congenital and developmental defects, as well as personal injury victims, and therefore represents a parallel market which overlaps with personal injury settlement planning.
For the past eight years, ASNP has sponsored some of the best educational programs addressing settlement planning topics including such fundamental issues as: "know your client", "needs analysis", "best practices", "industry standards" and "product suitability", as well as "professional responsibility, qualifications and liability".
Among other topics, the ASNP 2014 Conference expanded previous ASNP educational programs about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA aka "Obamacare") including a multi-professional "ACA Panel" consisting of: David Lillesand (attorney); Ann Koerner (life care planner); and Scott McDonald (investment adviser).
Other settlement planning topics addressed during ASNP's 2014 Annual Conference:
- 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.
- Cynthia Barrett discussed "Post-Windsor Issues for LGBT Couples & Children" - another settlement planning subject other settlement planning conferences failed to encompass.
Expanding its settlement planning educational programs, ASNP is currently sponsoring a 12-part settlement planning webinar series which demonstrates both the growing importance of settlement planning for SN attorneys as well as the broad scope of settlement planning topics.
National Alliance of Medicare Set-Aside Professionals (NAMSAP)
NAMSAP is the only national professional association whose singular focus is Medicare Set-Aside (MSA) arrangements. NAMSAP's growth has paralleled the expansion of workers compensation MSAs (WCMSAs) to satisfy the requirements of the Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) Act. Enacted in 1980, the MSP Act requires certain insurers, including liability, automobile, no-fault and workers compensation insurers, to make payment first for services to Medicare beneficiaries regarding claimed injuries, with Medicare responsible only as a “secondary payer.”
The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published a WCMSA Reference Guide (WCRG) on March 29, 2013 plus a WCRG Version 2.0 on November 7, 2013. Both address structured settlement issues and provide guidelines for their utilization. WCMSAs represent one of the few submarkets where structured settlements sales have increased since 2008 - in large part because the method CMS requires for calculating WCMSA present values provides an inherent cost advantage for annuities compared with lump sum alternatives.
CMS withdrew its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) related to liability MSAs in October 2014 because it failed to gain approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Therefore, settlement planners must continue to analyze each liability case individually to determine whether and how to protect Medicare's interests.
During NAMSAP's 2014 Regional Conference, Roy Franco predicted the following settlement planning changes likely to result from the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, implementation of the ACA and the still anticipated CMS rules for liability MSAs: "workers' compensation, liability and no-fault insurers will all become primary payers vis a vis Medicare, Medicaid and ACA health providers" as part of integrated settlement planning models similar to WCMSAs." Franco added, however, that different state models are likely to develop as a result of both state-specific collateral source rules and the new Medicaid reimbursement rules promulgated by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.
- NAMSAP 2014 Regional Conference
- NAMSAP 2014 Annual Meeting
- Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013
Evolve Qualified Settlement Fund (QSF) Symposium
Organized "to provide a forum for open dialogue that helps shape industry developments", the 2014 Evolve QSF Symposium avoided the single claimant controversy and focused instead on other important QSF and settlement planning issues including:
- How QSFs reconfigure the traditional settlement planning process.
- QSF-related compensation issues for administrators and structured settlement brokers.
- The increasingly important settlement planning roles for life care planners and case managers.
- QSF-related tax issues such as state taxation, foreign structured settlement assignment companies and structured attorney fees.
- Evolve 2014 QSF Symposium
- Single Claimant QSFs Revisited
- "How the ACA Affects Nurse Life Care Planners"
- Wendie Howland Interview
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA)
NAELA was the first and remains the largest U.S. professional association focused on the needs of elder and special needs law attorneys. Responding to its own strategic challenges, NAELA organized its 2014 Annual Conference to address what it perceives to be its two primary strategic issues: 1) the future needs of persons with disabilities; and 2) the future of elder law.
Compared with ASNP, however, NAELA's educational programs rarely address settlement planning or structured settlements. When NAELA members discuss special needs planning, many tend to think about developmental (as opposed to personal injury) disabilities. Unfortunately, many NAELA members view structured settlements negatively despite familiarity with the concept and a general affinity for annuities.