Three legal advocacy groups in Tennessee filed a class action lawsuit Wednesday against the state for adopting policies that delay and deny health coverage to people eligible for Medicaid.
The lawsuit makes several allegations, most basically that the state has created a series of bureaucratic hurdles that essentially prohibit access to the state’s Medicaid program, TennCare, making it the most difficult state in which to enroll in Medicaid.
For example, according to the lawsuit, Tennessee has failed to provide in-person assistance for people trying to enroll in TennCare, and no longer accepts completed applications in person. It also has not set up a website for TennCare enrollment, instead forcing people to use the federal insurance exchange website, which was not designed to process state-level eligibility. In some cases, says the lawsuit, otherwise eligible Tennessee residents using the federal website to sign up for TennCare are actually denied coverage because the website cannot determine eligibility under certain categories outlined by state law.
One of the plaintiffs in the suit is a baby, identified as S.G., who was born into coverage under a health program called CoverKids; when he left the hospital Tennessee revoked that coverage. S.G. was born premature and as a result has specific medical needs. Though his parents make less than $2,000 a month and re-applied for CoverKids days after his birth, they have still received no notification from the state.
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Tennessee is one of 24 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which also required states to streamline and improve their Medicaid enrollment processes. Last month, the Obama administration warned six states, including Tennessee, that they were failing to comply with the federal law. In a letter dated June 27, the Department of Health and Human Services requested that Tennessee submit a plan to the government detailing how it will come into compliance with Obamacare. In a defiant response, a TennCare official blamed the state’s health-care woes on the federal website, saying that only “a small percentage of applicants have had difficulty completing the enrollment process, but almost all of those problems have been the result of flaws in the federal government’s healthcare.gov website.”
A staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the organizations that brought the suit, said in a press statement that Tennessee officials are intentionally sacrificing the health of its citizens in order to “score political points” with Republicans by making Obamacare look bad.