Two Connecticut women with disabilities who sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over Medicaid coverage lost to a Trump administration rule change received a temporary reprieve last week.
The Department of Justice told the Department of Social Services it would not enforce the regulations for the next few weeks. That means, Brenda Moore and Deborah Carr will be able to keep their Medicaid benefits until later next month, but that doesn’t resolve the issue for disability rights advocates.
It’s estimated that the Trump administration rule change impacted 6,600 individuals in Connecticut, who should have continued to receive their benefits under the Coronavirus Response Act.
It also doesn’t help the third plaintiff whose dental work and transportation is no longer covered under Medicaid.
The Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to an emailed request for comment on the lawsuit two weeks ago, but it did offer Carr and Moore an extension of benefits for the next few weeks while motions are filed in the lawsuit.
In the meantime, Sheldon Toubman, an attorney with Disability Rights Connecticut, is looking for more plaintiffs to join the action.
He said Moore and Carr are two of about 6,600 individuals in Connecticut who are impacted by the ruling. He said he doesn’t know what that number is nationwide.
And the problem is more people will be cut off every day if the ruling continues to be enforced.
In exchange for receiving billions of dollars of additional federal funding, states are forbidden under the law from involuntarily terminating anyone in the state from Medicaid during the federally-declared COVID-19 public health emergency. But without allowing any opportunity for prior public comment, the Trump administration rule created huge new exceptions to this Congressional requirement out of whole cloth, changing federal policy that had been in place for eight months since the Act was passed in March.
“The requirement to keep people on Medicaid during the ongoing crisis was adopted precisely because Congress recognized the severe threat, not just to individuals but to public health, from ending health insurance to vulnerable, low-income people,” Toubman said.
The underlying action asks the court to invalidate the rule and, in the meantime, to restore benefits to persons wrongfully terminated from Medicaid during the public health emergency.
“Overwhelmingly, people want to live in their communities. This is especially true during a pandemic. Any loss of Medicaid benefits disproportionately impacts low-income older adults of color, who are already most at risk of institutionalization and illness due to structural health inequities,” Carol Wong, associate litigation director, Justice in Aging, said.
Despite its stated commitment to health equity, and the ongoing public health emergency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the Biden Administration has failed to complete the unfinished business of rescinding the prior administration’s “lawless rule,” advocates said. Instead, it prevents older adults, people with disabilities, young mothers, and others from getting the health care they need.
“By stripping Medicaid recipients of benefits they were receiving when the Act was passed, the agency’s interim final rule is in direct conflict with the law, and threatens the health of hundreds of thousands of persons,” Harvey L. Reiter, a partner with the Washington DC office of Stinson LLP, said.
More than 4,000 comments were submitted before the rule went into effect.
Families USA, a nonprofit health advocacy group, called the rule change “substantively and procedurally bad policy” that “must be rescinded” in a briefing published at the time of the change.
“The reinterpretation, which allows states to cut benefits and increase cost sharing will have a devastating impact on millions who rely on Medicaid,” Families USA write in its brief.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services even acknowledged that the ruling could “negatively impact the beneficiary who loses comprehensive Medicaid coverage” and “also undermine states’ COVID-19 response efforts.”
If you may have been impacted by the ruling, Toubman is asking you to reach out at (475) 345-3169.