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Lawsuit Filed Over Governor Corbett's Overhaul Of Medicaid

By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Healthcare advocates filed a federal class action in Philadelphia on Monday asking a judge to stop part of Governor Tom Corbett's new Healthy Pennsylvania Medicaid plan.

The lawsuit comes just days before Governor Corbett's plan is set to take effect on January 1st, changing benefits for more than a million adults.

"Benefits packages are going to be cut so severely in some cases that people who needed a better benefits package are not going to get them," says Kristen Dama, a staff attorney with Community Legal Services and one of the lawyers for plaintiffs. She says the plaintiffs were unilaterally moved to a package designed for healthier patients without proper notice.

"The move violates both the constitution," she says, "as well as the social security act."

The federal lawsuit claims the plaintiffs - a class of 200,000 low-income Pennsylvanians who receive services under Medical Assistance - will face severe benefit cuts when they are moved onto one of three Healthy Pennsylvania plans.

"People are being moved based on standards that haven't been made public," says Dama, "and that are missing people who have significant medical problems."

She says 50,000 low-income Pennsylvania will be assigned new doctors, lose dental care and transportation services when the plan goes into effect next week.

"We are asking for a preliminary to stop that piece of the plan," she says.

The lawsuit will not impact benefits to 600,000 Pennsylvanians who become eligible for Medicaid January 1st.

The Department of Human Services press secretary Kait Gillis emailed the following in response to a request for comment:

"We have a common mission of ensuring all Pennsylvanians have access to quality health care coverage. However, the department disagrees with the allegations made in the lawsuit and will be preparing a response. The Healthy PA benefit plans being offered and the health screening tool we are using are the result of extensive dialogue with the federal government, stakeholders and the general public, as well as approvals from the federal government. These plans will provide substantial benefits to the citizens of Pennsylvania and meet the federal Health Benefits requirements that every American is entitled to.

The referenced health screening process was federally approved and is intended to better and more responsibly identify health care needs of consumers. Individuals are able to "raise their hand" to communicate additional medical needs they believe necessitate a different plan. If subsequent medical needs arise at a later time there will be opportunities to be reconsidered for enrollment in a different plan.

The department will work to avoid any confusion or disruption of service for those expecting to receive access to health care coverage as a result of the lawsuit.

We look forward to implementing the Healthy PA plan on Jan. 1, 2015, and to providing access to the more than 600,000 Pennsylvanians benefiting from this plan."

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