Regions Hospital v. Shalala
Annotate this Case
522 U.S. 448 (1998)
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OCTOBER TERM, 1997
REGIONS HOSPITAL v. SHALALA, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT
No. 96-1375. Argued December 1, 1997-Decided February 24,1998
Under the Medicare Act and its implementing regulations, a hospital (a provider) may obtain reimbursement for "allowable cost[s]" (including the costs of certain graduate medical education (GME) programs for interns and residents) by preparing a report at the close of each fiscal year and filing it with a "fiscal intermediary" designated by respondent Secretary. The intermediary examines the cost report, audits it when found necessary, and issues a written "notice of amount of program reimbursement" (NAPR), which determines the total amount payable for Medicare services during the reporting period. The NAPR is subject to review by the Provider Reimbursement Review Board (PRRB), the Secretary, and ultimately the courts. By regulation, the Secretary may reopen, within three years, any determination by an intermediary, the PRRB, or the Secretary herself to recoup excessive (or correct insufficient) reimbursement for a given year. In 1986, Congress changed the method for calculating reimbursable GME costs. In lieu of discrete annual determinations of "reasonable cost ... actually incurred," 42 U. S. C. § 1395x(v)(1)(A), the "GME Amendment" now requires the "Secretary [to] determine, for [a] hospital's cost reporting period that began during fiscal year 1984, the average amount recognized as reasonable under [the Act] for direct [GME] costs of the hospital for each full-timeequivalent resident," § 1395ww(h)(2)(A), and directs the Secretary to use the 1984 amount, adjusted for inflation, to calculate a hospital's GME reimbursement for subsequent years, § 1395ww(h)(2). Based on indications that some "questionable" GME costs had been "erroneously reimbursed" to providers for their 1984 base year, the Secretary's "reaudit" regulation, 42 CFR §413.86(e), interprets the GME Amendment to authorize intermediaries to conduct a second audit of the 1984 GME costs to ensure accurate reimbursements in future years. The reaudit rule permits no recoupment of excess reimbursement for years in which the reimbursement determination has become final. Rather, the rule seeks to prevent future overpayments and to permit recoupment of prior excess reimbursement only for years still within the three-year reopening window.
Petitioner Regions Hospital (Hospital) is eligible for GME cost reimbursement. A reaudit commenced in late 1990 yielded a determination that the Hospital's total allowable 1984 GME costs were $5,916,868, down from the original NAPR of $9,892,644. The recomputed average per-resident amount was $49,805, in contrast to the original $70,662. The Secretary sought to use this recomputed amount to determine reimbursements for future years and past years within the three-year window. The Secretary did not attempt to recoup excessive reimbursement paid to the Hospital for its 1984 GME costs, for the three-year window had already closed on that year. Appealing to the PRRB, the Hospital challenged the validity of the reaudit rule. The PRRB responded that it lacked authority to invalidate the rule. On expedited review, the District Court granted the Secretary summary judgment, concluding that § 1395ww(h)(2)(A)'s language was ambiguous, that the reaudit rule reasonably interpreted Congress' prescription, and that the reauditing did not impose an impermissible "retroactive rule." The Eighth Circuit affirmed.
1. The Secretary's reaudit rule is not impermissibly retroactive. The rule is in full accord with Landgraf v. USI Film Products, 511 U. S. 244, which explained that the legal effect of conduct should ordinarily be assessed under the law existing when the conduct took place, id., at 265, but further clarified that a prescription is not made retroactive merely because it draws upon antecedent facts for its operation, id., at 270, n. 24. The reaudit rule calls for the correct application of the cost reimbursement principles in effect at the time the costs were incurred, not the application of any new reimbursement principles. Cf. Bowen v. Georgetown Univ. Hospital, 488 U. S. 204, 207. Furthermore, the reaudits leave undisturbed the actual reimbursements for 1984 and any later reporting years on which the three-year reopening window had closed. The adjusted reasonable cost figures resulting from the reaudits are to be used solely to calculate reimbursements for still open and future years. P. 456.
2. The reaudit rule is a reasonable interpretation of the GME Amendment. Pp. 457-464.
(a) In determining whether an agency's interpretation of a statute is entitled to deference, a court asks first whether Congress' intent is clear as to the precise question at issue. Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U. S. 837, 842. If, by employing traditional statutory construction tools, id., at 843, n. 9, the court determines that Congress' intent is clear, that ends the matter, id., at 842. But if the statute is silent or ambiguous as to the specific issue,