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Judge OKs preliminary settlement in Idaho Medicaid lawsuit

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has approved a preliminary settlement between developmentally disabled Idaho residents and the state Department of Health and Welfare, the ACLU-Idaho announced Monday.

The settlement requires the state to develop a new tool for determining some Medicaid benefits, to give participants more information about budget changes and to help some participants with appeals.

ACLU-Idaho's executive director, Leo Morales, said in a statement Monday that the lawsuit was filed to defend the constitutional rights of some of Idaho's most vulnerable residents.

A group of 12 Idaho residents with severe disabilities sued the Department of Health and Welfare four years ago, claiming the department failed to disclose how it calculated their Medicaid benefits.

The group was represented by the ACLU and Boise attorney James Piotrowski, a Democrat currently running for Congress against 1st District GOP Rep. Raul Labrador.

The group said their benefits provided through Idaho's developmentally disabled waiver program had been cut as much as 40 percent, leaving them underfunded to get the care they needed.

They asked for class action status and told the court the state's refusal to reveal how it developed the new budget numbers made the benefit determinations nearly impossible to appeal.

State officials initially told the group that the formula for computing budgets was a trade secret and exempt from disclosure under Idaho's public records law.

But they later retreated from that claim, offering to share the budget information with the 12 residents as long as they pledged to keep it secret under a confidentiality agreement.

The group refused, and moved forward with the lawsuit.

Under the settlement agreement, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare must develop a plan to make sure all participants in the developmentally disabled Medicaid waiver program have someone to help them get the benefits they need. The state will also have to reveal the standards it uses to come up with benefit determinations.

Because the lawsuit is a class action case, the proposed settlement will be open for reviews and comments by the program participants before it can be approved in a final hearing next January.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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