Officials with the state of Tennessee have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed against them, contending the federal government, not TennCare, is to blame for a backlog of Medicaid applications.
And their lawyers argued in court papers filed Thursday night that the case does not meet the criteria to be granted class-action status. The suit, filed by three nonprofit organizations on behalf of 11 plaintiffs — who include parents of babies who went without medical coverage and a woman with kidney failure — asks the federal court to force the state to process Medicaid applications within a legally required 45-day period.
"The injuries alleged by plaintiffs were in fact directly caused by — and can only be remedied by — the United States, whom they did not name as a defendant to this action," Michael W. Kirk, the lawyer for TennCare, wrote in his motion for dismissal, contending that not naming the U.S. government as a defendant was required by court procedural rules.
He also listed four reasons as to why the case should not be given class-action status, which could potentially add hundreds or thousands of plaintiffs. Lawyers with the Tennessee Justice Center, Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Health Law Program, he wrote, failed to prove common circumstances, did not demonstrate that the relief sought from the court would apply uniformly, could not show the number of people affected and said the plaintiffs have narrow categories not typical of one another.
"The state's position is not a surprise," said Michele Johnson with the Tennessee Justice Center. "It is of a piece with the state's continued efforts to try to blame everyone else and deny responsibility for the harm to its own citizens and the health system we all rely upon."
The legal dispute centers on delays with bringing a $35.7 million computer system online and TennCare's decision to stop staffing hospitals and Department of Human Services offices with personnel who could help people apply directly to the state agency for Medicaid coverage.
TennCare Director Darin Gordon said in a court declaration that he was aware residents had experienced problems.
"TennCare has not just accepted these problems as inevitable, but at my direction has worked collaboratively with CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) to fashion solutions that address the various differing circumstances that have given rise to these applicants' difficulties with enrollment," Gordon said in the court declaration.
He noted that TennCare was implementing a newborn presumptive eligibility program that would allow hospitals to temporarily approve Medicaid coverage for babies likely to qualify. However, the agency started this effort after Cindy Mann, the federal head of Medicaid services, put Tennessee on notice to take action.
Gordon said in the court declaration that he could not forecast a date when the $35.7 million computer system, the Tennessee Eligibility Determination System, would be functional. And he said any manual system for processing applications "is not workable on any large scale" and would interfere with the current process.
Reach Tom Wilemon at 615-726-5961 and on Twitter @TomWilemon.