PROVIDENCE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island has ended its class-action lawsuit against the state claiming its Medicare Premium Payment Program kicked people off abruptly, securing a settlement providing due notice for program terminations and $59,624.75 in attorneys’ fees.
The U.S. District Court lawsuit, Scherwitz v. Beane, was filed last year by ACLU of Rhode Island volunteer attorney Ellen Saideman, according to Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island.
Under the Medicare Premium Payment Program, Medicaid pays the cost for the elderly or those with disabilities eligible for Medicare, including their monthly premium for Medicare Part B. The program provides financial assistance to those who qualify.
The people unfairly terminated from the program suffered substantial hardship, according to the lawsuit, putting low-income residents “at risk of losing their homes and their utilities and … funds needed for their daily living expenses, including food.”
The lawsuit tied the improper notice to the state’s Unified Health Infrastructure Project computer system, the subject of another ACLU lawsuit regarding food-stamp benefit delays.
Under the settlement agreement filed Thursday, the state agreed to provide “timely and adequate advance notice prior to terminating MPP benefits.” That notice includes 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 its attention by the ACLU about people allegedly terminated from the program 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 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,” Brown said.
The Executive Office of Health and Human Services is committed to ensuring the RI Bridges system works for all of our customers and meets federal regulations, said Alisha Pina, spokesperson for the agency.
“We’ve taken action, ensuring all MPP notices are issued in a timely manner,” Pina said.
Within a month of the lawsuit’s filing, the state added hundreds of individuals back to the program and took steps to ensure 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, according to the ACLU.
“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,” Saideman said.
Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Borkowski@PBN.com.