DISABLED CARE: Advocates Protest Court Ruling
A coalition of disabled patients and their advocates denounced yesterday at the Connecticut Capitol a court decision that denies "medically necessary equipment to Medicaid recipients," the Hartford Courant reports (Pazniokas, 4/7). The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City's ruling "would vastly expand the authority" of Connecticut, New York and Vermont "to deny some treatments and equipment for people who, for example, suffer from diseases associated with AIDS" and would also "give state Medicaid agencies a free hand to turn down requests for specialized wheelchairs and respiratory aids for people with breathing difficulties." In the February 24 ruling, a panel of three judges said their edict "upheld federal law as interpreted by the Department of Health and Human Services," the New York Times reports (Rabinovitz, 4/7). The ruling stated: "a state may impose coverage limitations that result in denial of medically necessary services to an individual Medicaid recipient, so long as the health care provided is adequate with respect to the needs of the Medicaid population as a whole."
But at the rally yesterday, the Connecticut Union of Disability Action Groups called on Gov. John Rowland (R) to "voluntarily" change the policy based on what it called an "unprecedented court decision." And the New Haven Legal Assistance filed a brief asking the entire Appeals Court to review the decision that it said "constitutes an abrupt, unprecedented break with over 20 years of federal court jurisprudence in the Medicaid area." Legal aid attorney Sheldon Toubman called the decision "a death sentence" for some disabled people and said that "such a radical break with established precedent should not occur without due consideration by the entire court" (Courant, 4/7). Connecticut officials yesterday defended their ruling, "saying that it upheld the state's right to manage its own Medicaid program, and added that people who opposed the ruling should seek redress in Congress or the state Legislature."
Connecticut Social Services Department spokesperson David Dearborn said, "The crux of the issue is what is medically necessary equipment that the public should pay for, as opposed to quality-of-life equipment that we would all like to have, but might break the bank eventually and interfere with any state's right to run a Medicaid program." An amicus brief was also filed yesterday on behalf of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, United Cerebral Palsy Associations, Gay Men's Health Crisis, the Medical Society of the State of New York and several dozen other groups (Times, 4/7). In the brief, Lewis Golinker argued that the Medicaid population "as a whole" does not have AIDS, etc., but by the "2nd Circuit's new standard, Medicaid patients with those illnesses are not entitled to coverage" (Courant, 4/7). The Times reports that Rowland yesterday directed Joyce Thomas, Connecticut social service commissioner, to review how the state "handles its Medicaid claims" (4/7).