Medicaid recipients sue state for lost dental benefits

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- Three Medicaid recipients filed a lawsuit Monday against the state of Missouri, seeking dental benefits that ended for adult recipients last month.

Their lawyer promised a class-action lawsuit unless those benefits are restored for all in need.

Facing shrinking revenue, Gov. Bob Holden and lawmakers approved a state budget that lacked $4.6 million for the Medicaid program.

That money represented the expected cost of providing dental care to adult Medicaid recipients. The cut was recommended by Holden as a way to help balance the budget.

The lawsuit names Dana Katherine Martin, director of the Missouri Department of Social Services, as the defendant.

Filed in St. Louis Circuit Court, it seeks an order requiring Martin to restore dental benefits for adults in the Medicaid program.

About 300,000 Missouri adults are eligible for the coverage, although about 88,000 used the service last year. The plaintiffs' lawyer, Thomas E. Kennedy, cited a state law regarding Medicaid that says benefits for dental care "shall be made on behalf of eligible needy persons."

While there are only three plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Kennedy said that the benefits should be restored for all who need it.

"This is not a class action," he said. "This is an individual action. We think, however, that they have a responsibility to treat everybody equally. ... If the state in its infinite wisdom decides not to treat everybody equally, then we will sue them, and we will pursue class relief."

Calls to Holden's office seeking comment Monday evening were not returned.

Holden in January recommended the elimination of the adult dental benefit as a way for the state to save money. Lawmakers included the cut in their final version of the budget passed in May, and the benefits expired at the beginning of July.

The lawsuit's plaintiffs, all St. Louis residents, are Lloyd Edward Smith, 36; Betty Brent, 45; and Serveller McNeil-Terry, 53.

Smith is a developmentally disabled man with a job in a sheltered workshop. Kennedy said Smith is unable to arrange dental or medical coverage for himself, a service he is now getting from the Life Skills Foundation.

The group offers residential services and other help for the developmentally disabled.

"That foundation provides these services for a lot of people, and they are going to be overwhelmed," Kennedy said. As for Smith, "Without these dental benefits, his independence is going to be threatened."

Brent has multiple sclerosis, diabetes, hypertension, and a back injury.

"I believe she has eight teeth which need fillings immediately," Kennedy said.

He said McNeil-Terry also needs immediate dental attention.

She is on a waiting list for a kidney transplant, and to stay on the list she needs a clearance form that says she has good dental health.

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