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Press Releases

Cooper Congratulates Nashville Attorney on Nomination for Federal Judgeship

Press release from U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn. 05; February 4, 2015:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05) on Wednesday praised the news that President Obama has nominated a celebrated Nashville attorney for a federal judgeship in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.

“Out of an outstanding field of candidates, President Obama is nominating a first-rate local attorney and community leader,” Cooper said. “Waverly Crenshaw will make a fine federal judge. I just hope the Senate confirms him quickly because he is needed on the bench now.”

Crenshaw proudly calls himself “a product of the desegregated Nashville public school system.” A graduate of McGavock Comprehensive High School, Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Law School, Crenshaw joined Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis in 1990, becoming the firm’s first African-American attorney. He made partner, started an expansive mentoring program and served on the firm’s Diversity Committee.

Crenshaw has handled cases for clients in multiple industries, including health care, retail, manufacturing, transportation, communications, hospitality, education, public utilities and more.

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Featured Health Care

Judge Orders TennCare Eligibility Hearings

A federal judge has ordered state TennCare managers to hold hearings for Tennesseans who, because of application processing delays, have spent months waiting to find out if they qualify for taxpayer-finance health coverage.

U.S. District Court Judge Todd Campbell issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday — effective immediately — in a lawsuit against Tennessee’s Medicaid services agency that required the department to halt its refusal to provide hearings about delays in eligibility determinations within a certain number of days after one is requested. Those making the request have to prove that they have not learned the outcome of their application within 45 days if eligibility is based on income, while those seeking eligibility for a disability have to wait 90 days.

The lawsuit was also upgraded to class-action status.

“TennCare is committed to operationalizing the Judge’s Orders at this time,” TennCare spokesman John Goetz told TNReport Wednesday in an email.

The lawsuit was brought in July by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Health Law Program and the Tennessee Justice Center on behalf of several Tennesseans who felt their applications for assistance were not being heard in a timely enough manner, and that the state was not providing proper in-person assistance for applicants, instead sending them to the federal exchange.

The suit was filed shortly after the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent a letter to the state alleging it had failed to meet several of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

In his order, Campbell wrote that injuries suffered by the would-be TennCare enrollees “cannot be made whole by a retroactive award of money after the litigation process is complete.”

“The plaintiff class members are economically impoverished and, without TennCare benefits, have forgone or are forgoing vital medical treatments, services and prescriptions,” the judge added.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam recently brushed off criticism that the state’s been dragging its feet signing up qualified applicants. Enrollment in 2014 is on record pace for the 20-year-old program’s history, the governor indicated.

One of TennCare’s attorneys argued that because of the issues the state has been having with getting its new eligibility system online, they had been given permission to send Medicaid applicants to the federal exchanges, and federal officials had failed to send necessary information to them about the plaintiffs that would help them process the applications faster.

Darin Gordon, the head of the agency, appeared before the General Assembly’s joint Fiscal Review Committee last week, and explained that Northrop Grumman — the company who won the bid to produce the system — was very much behind deadline, and the state had contracted with a third-party auditor to determine how much longer it would take for them to produce the necessary system.

However, Campbell wrote in his order that he was not persuaded that “the State can delegate its responsibilities under the Medicaid program to some other entity – whether that entity is a private party or the Federal Government.”

If a state decides to participate in Medicaid, “it is required to ensure that applications are adjudicated reasonably promptly and that hearings on delayed adjudications are held reasonably promptly,” Campbell continued in the injunction.

Additionally, according to the order, the federal government filed a “Statement of Interest” in the case, which said that TennCare “at all times retains the ultimate responsibility to ensure that a reasonably prompt decision is made on applications, including ones that have been submitted in the first instance to the federally facilitated Exchange in the State.”

Michele Johnson, executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center, said in a press release that her organization is “jubilant” that “vulnerable Tennesseans will now get the care upon which their lives and futures depend.”

Categories
Press Releases

Federal Court Grants Preliminary Injunction Against TennCare, Suit Upgraded

Press release from the Tennessee Justice Center; September 2, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A federal judge granted relief to residents across Tennessee today by ordering the state to provide hearings to residents whose Medicaid applications have been unreasonably delayed, according to a ruling in a case brought by a coalition of
civil rights groups.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Todd Campbell granted a preliminary injunction sought by the groups and certified the
litigation as a class action lawsuit, meaning that it applies to all people in Tennessee who have waited months for a determination
on their applications for the program, TennCare. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Tennessee Justice Center and the
National Health Law Program filed the lawsuit.

The court’s order takes immediate effect.

“This is a profound victory for all of Tennessee,” said Sara Zampierin, SPLC staff attorney. “The court’s ruling today will require TennCare to do their job and ensure that the people who have been stuck waiting for a decision for months will be able to finally receive the health care they deserve.”

The court rejected the state’s attempt to blame the federal government for its own failings, ruling instead that the state is responsible for its administration of the TennCare program, and noting that “[i]f a state decides to participate in the Medicaid
program, it is required to ensure that applications are adjudicated reasonably promptly.” The court further rejected the state’s claim that it has no “backlogs,” noting that the existence of this lawsuit proved that many people are suffering.

“We are jubilant that the vulnerable Tennesseans will now get the care upon which their lives and futures depend,” said Michele
Johnson, executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center. “We look forward to working with state officials to develop a process
that protects the health of Tennesseans and the infrastructure upon which we all rely.”

The court ordered that a fair hearing be provided to all class members who have proof of application and request such a hearing. The hearings will be held within 45 days, unless the person’s eligibility is based on a disability, in which case the State will have 90 days to conduct the hearing.

“We are pleased that Judge Campbell recognized this as a statewide problem,” said Elizabeth Edwards, Staff Attorney at the
National Health Law Program. “The law requires Medicaid applications to be processed promptly because low-income
individuals and people with disabilities often have a brutal need for health care that, without TennCare coverage, they will be unable to afford.”

A copy of the order can be viewed here: http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/case-docket/Melissa-Wilson-et-al-v-Darin-Gordon-et-al.

Categories
Press Releases

SPLC, Others File Federal Lawsuit Against TN Over TennCare

Press release from the Southern Poverty Law Center; July 23, 2014:

Earlier this year, a high blood pressure episode put April Reynolds in the hospital. In fact, doctors told the mother of three that she could have died if she had waited any longer to seek medical treatment.

Reynolds put off going to the hospital because she didn’t have a way to pay for medical treatment. She had been trying to get coverage through Tennessee’s Medicaid program, but the state’s policies have deprived thousands of people like her the coverage they need even though they are eligible.

Now, Reynolds owes $20,000 in medical bills and needs monthly checkups. But she has been to the doctor only once since the episode because she’s afraid of accruing more debt.

Today, the SPLC filed a federal class action lawsuit against Tennessee for adopting policies that break its decades-old promise of health care to Reynolds and other vulnerable residents.

“Tennessee officials are sacrificing the health of the state’s most vulnerable citizens just to score political points,” said Sam Brooke, SPLC staff attorney. “They’re throwing a monkey wrench into their own Medicaid program so they can demonize the federal government. People in dire need of medical care are being sacrificed.”

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville. The complaint, which was also brought by the Tennessee Justice Center and the National Health Law Program, comes on the heels of a scathing letter the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent to state officials for failing to meet six of seven critical success factors required by federal health care law – easily making Tennessee the worst state in the nation for fulfilling its Medicaid obligations.

According to the lawsuit, the state has violated federal law by discontinuing in-person help for applicants to its Medicaid program, TennCare. Instead, Tennessee forces applicants to apply for TennCare through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace website, which was not designed for this purpose, causing some residents – including those with serious medical conditions – to go needlessly without health care. To make matters worse, the state has stopped accepting TennCare applications in person.

Under federal law, an application for Medicaid must be processed in 45 days. The decisions Tennessee has made have resulted in many applicants – including all the plaintiffs in this case – being forced to wait more than two or three times the maximum period, with serious consequences.

“I have to worry every day about how my blood pressure is doing, which just escalates the problem,” Reynolds said.

The state also is arbitrarily terminating coverage for newborns after they are carried out the hospital door – a direct violation of regulations governing its state child health plan, “CoverKids.” Many newborns are now left without medical coverage during one of the most critical periods of their lives.

One plaintiff in the lawsuit is a baby identified as “S.G.,” who was born two months premature. He was born into CoverKids coverage, but Tennessee revoked it the moment he left the hospital. S.G. has not had coverage since leaving the hospital.

As a premature child, S.G. is at high risk of contracting the potentially fatal respiratory and airway virus RSV. He requires monthly shots – at $3,000 each – to prevent this illness. His parents can’t afford the treatment.

The changes that have deprived Tennesseans of coverage began in the fall of 2013 when the state ended in-person assistance for residents applying for TennCare, removing an important service that helped them navigate the application process. The state decided instead to make the federal Health Insurance Marketplace website, established under the Affordable Care Act, the only means for applying for TennCare, leaving many residents without coverage because the site cannot determine eligibility for individuals falling within certain categories.

As for Reynolds, she hopes the lawsuit will make the state live up to its promise to provide vulnerable residents with the health care they need.

“It would be such a burden off my shoulders,” she said. “It would make life a whole lot better. I think I’d live longer.”