Supreme Court Rules TennCare Can Receive Reimbursement for Services from Deceased Recipient’s Real Property

May 30, 2012

Nashville, Tenn.The Tennessee Supreme Court today held that current state law permits the Bureau of TennCare to obtain reimbursement for services provided to a deceased TennCare recipient from real property owned by the recipient at the time of death and left to family members in a will. 

After the TennCare recipient died in 2006, her estate filed her will in the Putnam County Probate Court. In response to the notice to creditors, the Bureau of TennCare filed a claim for $22,319 for nursing home and long-term care services provided to the recipient before her death. The recipient’s estate objected to the claim. 

After the probate court overruled the objection, the estate appealed to the Circuit Court for Putnam County. The circuit court decided that federal and state law did not allow TennCare’s claim. The Tennessee Court of Appeals vacated the circuit court’s order after finding that the circuit court did not have jurisdiction over the estate’s appeal. The estate requested the Tennessee Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals’ decision. 

After considering the parties’ briefs and oral arguments, the Court found that the circuit court should have transferred the estate’s appeal to the Court of Appeals. It also found that the Court of Appeals should have considered the estate’s appeal rather than simply vacating the circuit court’s order and sending the case back to the probate court. 

In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court determined that both federal law and state law permit the Bureau of TennCare to obtain reimbursement for services provided to a deceased TennCare recipient. The Court held that this reimbursement may come from the recipient’s personal property and from any real property that Tennessee law permits to be used to pay the debts of the deceased recipient or of the deceased recipient’s estate. 

To read the opinion authored by Justice William C. Koch, Jr., visit http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/trigg.opn_.pdf.