Medicaid cutbacks challenged in court

BY BOBBY HARRISON

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – With a Friday deadline nearing, health care advocacy groups filed a lawsuit Monday to keep 50,000 elderly and disabled Mississippians from losing their Medicaid health care coverage.

“The state of Mississippi's carelessness has left … Mississippi's most vulnerable people in a state of fear and mass confusion,” Martha Bergmark, president of the Mississippi Center for Justice, said in a news release.

The Center for Justice, the AARP Foundation Litigation, the National Senior Citizens Law Center and the National Health Law Program filed the lawsuit in Mississippi's Southern District federal court, four days before the reduction of the Medicaid rolls is scheduled to take effect.

The coalition is asking the court to block the removal of the elderly and disabled from Medicaid, the federal-state health care program.

It contends state and federal law were violated by the mixed signals sent out by Gov. Haley Barbour and the Division of Medicaid by announcing on two occasions the dates for the people to be removed – and then delaying their removal until Oct. 1.

The lawsuit also claims that:

n The people being removed should have been pre-screened to see if they qualified to remain on Medicaid under different categories of coverage.

n And removing people from Medicaid violates the Americans with Disabilities Act because some disabled people are allowed to remain on Medicaid while others are not.

Barbour spearheaded the effort to reduce the Medicaid rolls by eliminating the category known as the working poor from the health care program, and he said Monday he does not think the lawsuit will be successful.

He said he had not seen the lawsuit, but “if the question is whether I am worried about an adverse impact from the lawsuit, the answer is no … I am not concerned about the outcome.”

The Legislature, at Barbour's urging, voted to remove from the Medicaid rolls about 67,000 elderly and disabled who earn between $6,800 and $12,600 annually.

Barbour's reasons

Barbour said the removal would help alleviate the state's budget troubles. At the same time, Barbour said those removed could get adequate health care through the federal-only Medicare program and through charitable programs offered by pharmaceutical companies.

At the Legislature's behest, Barbour obtained federal permission to keep about 17,000 of the elderly and disabled on the Medicaid program. The waiver was needed because under federal law, the state cannot provide Medicaid health care coverage to just a portion of an income category.

Because of the waiver, the state director of the Citizens with Disabilities said the Medicaid division is violating ADA by providing coverage to some disabled but denying coverage to other disabled people.

Under the act, said Mary Troupe said, all disabled people must be treated the same.

Bergmark said that if the Medicaid cuts take effect as scheduled, “prescription drug bills will eat up huge percentages of their monthly income,” Bergmark said, referring to those being cut from the rolls. “In some cases the pharmacy bills actually exceed their incomes, and elderly and disabled people will be forced off life-sustaining medication.”

Barbour insisted Monday the people will continue to have adequate health care.

“I am certain the quality of care is there,” he said.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bharrison@jam.rr.com