Disabled to appeal Medicaid decision

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Attorneys for several disabled Missourians said Tuesday that they were appealing a federal court decision that allows the state to halt Medicaid coverage of some medical equipment.

U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple denied a request for a preliminary injunction Sept. 13, but attorneys for the disabled are raising the issue again with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

On Sept. 1, the state Medicaid program for the poor stopped covering durable medical equipment such as hospital beds, wheelchair batteries, breathing aids and cushions used to prevent bedsores. The cuts affected most adults on the program but specifically exempted the blind, pregnant and children.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the exceptions illegally discriminate based on diagnosis. By providing payment for some people's equipment expenses, they argued, Missouri had committed to paying such expenses for all who met federal Medicaid eligibility.

But Whipple ruled that the federal government does not require state Medicaid programs to cover durable medical equipment, so the Missouri Legislature and governor legally can opt not to do so. The judge also said federal Medicaid regulations allow for more services to be provided to children and pregnant women, and the state has applied for a federal waiver to offer more services to the blind than to other categories of people.

"We thought the judge's decision was legally not correct," said Thomas Kennedy, an Alton, Ill., attorney who represents the disabled plaintiffs. "This is an emergency for almost 400,000 people in Missouri, so we appealed."

The Department of Social Services says that about 340,000 Medicaid recipients are eligible for the medical services that were eliminated, but some smaller portion would have actually used those services.

Department spokeswoman Deborah Scott said the agency will continue to carry out the cuts while the case is appealed.

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