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More health-care providers, consumers sue Bullock admin over budget cuts

Posted at 5:22 PM, Jul 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-31 19:22:18-04

Another group of health-care providers to the poor – and, several low-income consumers – sued the Bullock administration Tuesday over 2018 state budget cuts, asking a judge to void the cuts and order them restored.

The lawsuit takes aim at cuts to services for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled, saying the Bullock administration didn’t follow the law when it instituted the cuts, and, by its actions, is imposing more costs in the future.

Lower rates for community-based providers of services like “case management” for the mentally ill undercuts efforts by patients to live independently, the suit said.

“Many clients who were otherwise well-served in the community are now forced into losing their homes, their jobs and, most importantly, their ability to move freely and work in their local communities,” the suit said. “They now have to seek services through hospitals, nursing homes or even state institutions, such as the state mental hospital or state jails and prisons.”

The suit is similar to one filed in June by Montana nursing homes and assisted-living centers, challenging the Bullock administration’s across-the-board 2.99 percent cut to rates paid by Medicaid, which covers medical bills for the poor.

The administration also cut mental health case-management payments by nearly 60 percent. Case managers help their clients keep appointments and access services they need to live independently.

The administration made the cuts in response to bills passed by the 2017 Legislature and lagging state revenue.

However, last week, Gov. Steve Bullock announced that state tax revenue has bounced back, and that some of the cuts would be restored in the coming months.

Beth Brenneman, an attorney for Disability Rights Montana, told MTN News Tuesday that the lawsuit is still needed to ensure the cuts are fully and retroactively restored, to Jan. 1 of this year, when they took effect.

“We haven’t gotten any assurances that the rates will be restored retroactively back to Jan. 1,” she said. “There has been a lot of damage that has occurred because of these illegal rates.”

Brenneman said even if the cuts are restored, the system of local mental-health and disability services has been badly harmed.

“Some people may believe that because the governor has promised to restore the rates, that things are going to go back to normal,” she said. “This is not like a spigot, where you turn water on and you turn water off and you can get those services back immediately. …

“It really has dismantled the community-services system, and it’s going to take a long time to get back to where we were before this happened.”

Bullock administration officials said Tuesday they plan to work with Medicaid providers in restoring the rate cuts, including a meeting with them Wednesday in Helena.

Four individual consumers and 10 providers and provider associations filed Tuesday’s lawsuit in state District Court in Helena, seeking restoration of the cuts, damages and attorney fees.

They also asked the court for an immediate order halting the cuts.

The suit said the Bullock administration violated several laws and rules when it proposed and implemented the cuts, and did not follow legislative intent, which allegedly specified other areas for cuts.