Dec. 5, 2003 – Nearly a year after a multimillion-dollar settlement was reached in a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of retired V.I. government employees against the Blue Cross insurance company, a Territorial Court judge has given final approval to the distribution of checks to individual class members.
The court order entered by Judge I've A. Swan "allows the checks to be sent out to each of the 2,950 members of the class entitled to share in the proceeds of the settlement, effective immediately," Maria Tankenson Hodge, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement issued on Friday.
The suit initially cited 3,491 members of the class — retirees over the age of 65 and their spouses covered by health insurance under the government's Blue Cross/Blue Shield group policy. It covered claims filed between Jan. 1, 1998, and Sept. 30, 2001.
The focus of the suit was on the refusal by Blue Cross to pay doctor bills for retirees who did not have Medicare Part B coverage. Standard Medicare, called Part A, is free; retirees must pay about $600 a year in premiums for Part B coverage, which helps pay doctor bills. Hodge said the insurance plan did not require retirees to sign up for Part B. However, she said, retirees who had Part B also were covered in the suit.
Several days after the settlement was reached on Dec. 9, 2002, Hodge said there was $3.4 million to be distributed to the plaintiffs, with the amounts to be worked out. She noted then that a court hearing and approval by the judge would be needed for the settlement to become final.
Hodge said then that while Blue Cross did not admit to any wrongdoing, it agreed in the settlement to pay plaintiffs' legal fees and the cost of administering the claims.
The settlement won Swan's preliminary approval last Jan. 10, and at that time a final hearing on the case was scheduled for May 19. Why the judge's final order did not come until December was not made clear.
According to Hodge, each member of the class who had Part B Medicare coverage during the period will receive a check for $715.30, and each class member who did not have Part B coverage will receive a check for $1,802.18.
"In addition," she said, "four individuals who submitted documented medical expenses exceeding the average payments will receive individual checks."
The suit was filed in the names of Lawrence Hodge and Gloria Davis and of the late Gerald Hodge Sr., who died in April. Maria Hodge had said last year that heirs of named plaintiffs in the suit who died also could collect a portion of the settlement.
She said checks will be mailed to the addresses to which original notices of the class action were sent. Any class member who does not receive a check within 15 days can report the matter by calling her law firm, Hodge & Francois, lead counsel for the class, at 774-6845.
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