Friday, May 24, 2024

Connecticut Courts Stands Up For Millions of Disabled People

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Federal judge in the District of Connecticut ordered U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to reverse a rule issued by the Trump administration that stripped thousands of people nationwide of Medicaid benefits.

Sheldon Toubman, an attorney working with Disability Rights CT, said there were more than 11,000 people in Connecticut who saw Medicaid cuts as of August and there are likely several thousand more seeing reductions since then.

In a rare move for Medicaid lawsuits, Judge Michael Shea also granted the plaintiffs nationwide class-action status. Typically, such classes are limited to specific states because each state administers Medicaid separately. But because this was a federal rule that affected the entire nation, anyone who lost coverage under this rule change is covered by the injunction.

“We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country whom a federal court found were irreparably harmed by not receiving the services they were entitled to,” said Sheldon Toubman, the litigation attorney for Disability Rights Connecticut. “It’s a national story and it happens to be coming from a federal court in Connecticut.”  Toubman said his clients had their benefits retroactively reinstated.

The Trump rule, called the “interim final rule” stripped hundreds of thousands of people of their Medicaid eligibility in the waning hours of his administration. It was issued four days after the election when votes were still being counted.

Lawyers and disability advocates worried about the reductions and terminations of coverage that they say disproportionately hurt people of color who need access to programs like Medicaid, which is known as HUSKY in Connecticut.

“Any loss of Medicaid benefits disproportionately impacts low-income older and disabled adults of color, who are already most at risk of institutionalization and illness due to structural inequities,” Carol Wong, Associate Litigation Director of Justice in Aging and one of the plaintiff attorneys, said in a statement.

Judge Michael Shea ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to reinstate its interpretation of Medicaid eligibility that was in effect before the Trump rule. Medicaid eligibility was protected under the Family First Coronavirus Response Act, directing states not to disenroll people from their benefits after March 18th, 2020, during the public health emergency.

“At minimum, states are expected to inform individuals whose coverage was terminated after March 18th 2020,” wrote Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in their previous guidance to states under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. “Where feasible, states should automatically reinstate coverage for individuals terminated after March 18th, 2020, and should suspend any terminations scheduled to occur during the emergency period. Coverage should be reinstated back to the date of termination.”

The news comes as the public health emergency for COVID-19 is winding down. If people choose to seek reinstatement after being removed under the Trump rule, they will enter the normal queue of people who are being reconsidered for eligibility.

“What we suggested is that CMS tell the states to put them at the back of the line because they’ve already been through hell,” said Toubman. “They should be in the last set.”

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