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BOWEN V. GEORGETOWN UNIV. HOSP., 488 U. S. 204 (1988)

U.S. Supreme Court

Bowen v. Georgetown Univ. Hosp., 488 U.S. 204 (1988)

Bowen v. Georgetown University Hospital

No. 87-1097

Argued October 11, 1988

Decided December 12, 1988

488 U.S. 204


Under the Medicare program, the Government reimburses health care providers for expenses incurred in providing medical services to Medicare beneficiaries. The Medicare Act, in 42 U.S.C. § 1395x(v)(1)(A), authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary) to promulgate cost reimbursement regulations, and also provides that

"[s]uch regulations shall . . . (ii) provide for the making of suitable retroactive corrective adjustments where, for a provider of services for any fiscal period, the aggregate reimbursement produced by the methods of determining costs proves to be either inadequate or excessive."

In 1981, the Secretary issued a cost-limit schedule that changed the method for calculating the "wage index," a factor used to reflect the salary levels for hospital employees in different parts of the country. Under the prior rule, the wage index for a given geographic area was calculated by using the average salary levels for all hospitals in the area, but the 1981 rule excluded from that computation wages paid by Federal Government hospitals. After the Federal District Court invalidated the 1981 rule in a suit brought by various hospitals in the District of Columbia, and the Secretary settled the hospitals' cost reimbursement reports by applying the pre-1981 wage-index method, the Secretary in 1984 reissued the 1981 rule and proceeded to recoup the sums previously paid to the hospitals, including respondents, as a result of the District Court's ruling. After exhausting administrative remedies, respondents brought suit in Federal District Court, claiming that the retroactive schedule was invalid under, inter alia, the Medicare Act. The court granted summary judgment for respondents, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. An administrative agency's power to promulgate regulations is limited to the authority delegated by Congress. As a general matter, statutory grants of rulemaking authority will not be understood to encompass the power to promulgate retroactive rules unless that power is conveyed by express terms. Pp. 488 U. S. 208-209.

2. The 1984 reinstatement of the 1981 cost-limit rule is invalid. Pp. 488 U. S. 209-216.

Page 488 U. S. 205

(a) Section 1395x(v)(1)(A) does not authorize retroactive promulgation of cost-limit rules. The structure and language of the statute require the conclusion that clause (ii) applies not to rulemaking, but only to case-by-case adjustments to reimbursement payments, where the regulations prescribing computation methods do not reach the correct result in individual cases. This interpretation of clause (ii) is consistent with the Secretary's past implementation of that provision. Pp. 488 U. S. 209-213.

(b) The Medicare Act's general grant of authority to the Secretary to promulgate cost-limit rules contains no express authorization for retroactive rulemaking. This absence of express authorization weighs heavily against the Secretary's position. Moreover, the legislative history of the cost-limit provision indicates that Congress intended to forbid retroactive cost-limit rules, and the Secretary's past administrative practice is consistent with this interpretation of the statute. Pp. 488 U. S. 213-216.

261 U.S.App.D.C. 262, 821 F.2d 750, affirmed.

KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. SCALIA, J., filed a concurring opinion.

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