The ACLU of Rhode Island today announced the settlement of a class-action lawsuit that was filed against the State last year, claiming that participants in a Medicaid program run by the state were not being given proper notice before being kicked off the program, leading to a loss of income that the suit says put low-income residents “at risk of losing their homes and their utilities and…funds needed for their daily living expenses, including food.” The suit tied the improper notice to the state’s infamous UHIP computer system, the subject of another pending ACLU suit regarding food stamp benefit delays.

This lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court by ACLU of RI volunteer attorney Ellen Saideman, involved the Medicare Premium Payment program (MPP). Medicaid provides the MPP program for certain individuals who are elderly or have disabilities and are eligible to receive Medicare benefits.  Under the MPP program, Medicaid pays these individuals’ costs for participating in Medicare, including their monthly premium for Medicare Part B.  The program thus provides significant financial assistance to those who qualify, and caused substantial hardship to those who were unfairly terminated.

Under the settlement agreement filed today, the State agreed to provide “timely and adequate advance notice prior to terminating MPP benefits.” Exactly what constitutes “timely and adequate notice” is defined in detail in the agreement, including a claimant’s right to a hearing to contest an intended termination of benefits. In addition, for the next 18 months, the state has five business days to respond to complaints brought to their attention by the ACLU about people allegedly terminated from the MPP without proper notice. The suit also provides a mechanism for the ACLU to seek court action in the event that “systematic breaches” of the agreement become known. The state also agreed to pay $59,624.75 in attorneys’ fees and costs.

Within a month after the lawsuit was filed, the state added hundreds of individuals back to the MPP program and took steps to ensure that individuals would not be terminated without notice.  The settlement agreement ensures a process is in place to protect against any slippage in providing proper notice. In settling the lawsuit, the state did not admit to any liability.

ACLU attorney Saideman said today: “I am very glad that we were able to achieve a great settlement in this case and make sure that individuals will not be terminated from the MPP program without timely and adequate advance notice.” 

ACLU of Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown added: “The people participating in the MPP program are among our state’s most vulnerable residents. We are pleased that our legal action has established some safeguards against the erroneous loss of this important benefit.”

More information on the lawsuit, including a copy of the settlement, can be found here.