By Ferdous Al-Faruque - 07/23/14 04:30 PM EDT
Advocacy groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) are suing Tennessee, alleging state officials have prevented thousands of people from signing up for Medicaid to spite ObamaCare.
SPLC, the Tennessee Justice Center and the National Health Law Program (NHLP) said they have filed a class action lawsuit titled Wilson v. Gordon in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee arguing the state has made it tougher for people to enroll into its Medicaid program, known as TennCare.
Sam Brooke, an SPLC attorney, says state officials made changes to TennCare last year in protest of the Affordable Care Act, which aims to increase the number of people who can enroll in Medicaid.
“Tennessee officials are sacrificing the health of the state’s most vulnerable citizens just to score political points,” he said. “They’re throwing a monkey wrench into their own Medicaid program so they can demonize the federal government.”
The advocates said the state last year stopped providing face-to-face counseling for people trying to sign up for TennCare, instead telling people to go online to HealthCare.gov, the federal ObamaCare exchange.
Brooke said the site doesn’t include all the eligibility criteria Tennessee uses to let people sign up, which means many people who are eligible aren’t able to join.
The advocacy groups said they have tried for months to resolve the problem with TennCare officials, but have been told that the state can’t fix the problem without a new computer system, which isn’t expected to be implemented anytime soon.
The advocacy groups say Tennessee is violating the Medicaid Act, which requires state Medicaid programs to process applicants and let them know if they qualify for the program within 45 days. If there is a delay, applicants are supposed to get a hearing.
The groups said Tennessee’s recent changes means it can take applicants two to three times longer to find out if they qualify for TennCare.
So far, Brooke and the other attorneys are representing 11 plaintiffs who have applied for TennCare and claim to have had their applications delayed, in some cases for almost 6 months. The lawyers are hoping bring thousand of more people into the lawsuit.
TennCare spokesperson Sarah Tanksley said the agency recieved "hundreds of pages of documents" Wednesday in connection to the lawsuit and did not have any comments other than they were in the process of reviewing the case brought against them.
— Updated at 6:15 p.m. EST.