Category Archives: disabled

Low-income Marylanders with disabilities file lawsuit over Medicaid delays

Last week, the Public Justice Center and the Homeless Persons Representation Project filed a class-action lawsuit against the Maryland Department of Human Resources to challenge longstanding delays in processing applications for and providing Medicaid benefits to eligible adults with disabilities.  For these low-income Maryland residents with serious medical needs, Medicaid is the only way they can afford critical doctor care and prescription drugs.

“No one should have to go through this,” said Mary Lou, the named plaintiff, who had been waiting for nearly a year for desperately needed medical benefits.  “It’s just wrong and I want to do my part to make sure other people don’t have to suffer and get sicker just because they don’t have the money or the insurance.”

Mary Lou lost her insurance benefits after her husband was laid off due to the economy.  Soon, she was unable to pay to see doctors to help her manage her disabilities.  Mary Lou had no other choice but to apply for Medicaid. Although an eligibility determination is supposed to be made within 60 days under state law, Mary Lou had been waiting for a decision for more than 233 days.

“Her case is typical of others I see everyday,” said Carolyn Johnson of the Homeless Persons Representation Project.  “People with serious medical conditions apply for Medicaid and then wait months, often more than a year, for the state to process their applications and provide benefits.  During that time they can’t afford to see doctors or afford testing and treatment, including prescriptions and medical supplies.  So they go without healthcare until serious conditions deteriorate and become acute or life-threatening, which often means they end up in the emergency room costing the state far more money.”

According to the state’s own report, as of December 31, 2012, there were 20,007 pending applications for MA-ABD statewide, meaning the state still had not processed and determined eligibility on these cases.  Of the pending cases, 9,940, almost half, were categorized as untimely due to “agency delay.”  Throughout all of 2012, the number of untimely pending cases never dropped below 8,300, indicating a severe and chronic backlog.

“These numbers represent real people, who are very vulnerable, very sick and need treatment,” said Camilla Roberson of the Public Justice Center. “These delays have been going on for years and are getting worse. The consequences are felt by every poor applicant whose health deteriorates each day he or she goes without needed care and by society at large when it pays for emergency room visits and hospitalization, as well as the lost potential for stabilization or recovery.”

Added Jenny Pelaez, an attorney from the National Center for Law and Economic Justice in New York: “The plaintiff, and others like her, are in dire need.  It’s unconscionable that any state, and especially Maryland — which is often thought to be at the forefront of healthcare reform — is keeping some of its neediest and most vulnerable citizens waiting for something as fundamental as healthcare access because of bureaucratic backlogs.  It’s a violation of law and basic human decency.”

Legal Aid helps solve Howard Co. rental dispute involving Rottweiler

Metropolitan Maryland office staff attorney Sara Wilkinson

Metropolitan Maryland office staff attorney Sara Wilkinson

Maryland Legal Aid helped Hazel Sanders,  70 years old and disabled,  and her Rottweiler service dog obtain an affordable apartment after the management company agreed to drop objections based on the Maryland Court of Appeals decision earlier this year defining pit bulls as inherently dangerous, the Baltimore Sun reported today.

“Sanders reached agreement in mediation last week through the Howard County Office of Human Rights, where she had filed a complaint against Equity Management II for refusing to make an exception to its no-pets policy for a service dog, as federal law requires,” the article said.

Sara C. Wilkinson, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Bureau Inc., who represented Sanders, said the issue of the Court of Appeals case never came up in the four- to five-hour mediation session last Thursday at the Howard County Office of Human Rights, in Columbia,” the report said.

To read the article (behind a pay wall), click here.

Legal Aid represents disabled woman barred from apartment for wrong breed of service dog

Metropolitan Maryland office staff attorney Sara Wilkinson

Hazel Sanders, an elderly, disabled Howard Co. woman, can’t move into a subsidized apartment because the management of the complex says her service dog–a Rottweiler–is “inherently dangerous” and it won’t allow a service-animal exception to its no-pets policy.

Anne Benaroya, an expert on animal law quoted in today’s front-page Baltimore Sun article, said the policy shows the potentially far-reaching consequences of a recent Court of Appeals ruling on pit bulls that quoted a 2000 study by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The study concluded that Rottweilers and pit bulls made up more than half of human deaths from dog bites.

Legal Aid staff attorney Sara C. Wilkinson, who represents Sanders, said the argument doesn’t hold up, arguing there’s no Maryland law on Rottweilers, her client’s dog has no history of aggressive behavior, and that  “most importantly, federal anti-discrimination law protecting the disabled should trump a brief mention of a 12-year-old veterinary article in a case regarding pit bulls.”

To read the article, click here.

Court restores Social Security benefits for thousands

As many as 140,000 Americans nationwide will get their Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits restored as a result of an order issued by Judge Sidney H. Stein in a federal court in Manhattan on April 13, 2012.

The benefits in question date back to October 2006 and may total $1 billion.
The order is the culmination of more than five years of litigation in Clark v. Astrue – Docket No. 06-15521 (S.D.N.Y.) – a case brought against the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) challenging its practice of relying exclusively on outstanding probation and parole warrants as sufficient evidence that individuals are in fact violating a condition of probation or parole as a basis for denying them benefits.

Rather than check the facts of a case, SSA merely matched warrant databases against its records. When it found a probation or parole warrant in the name of someone who was receiving benefits, SSA checked with law enforcement and, if the law enforcement agency was not actively pursuing the individual, SSA would cut off that individual’s benefits. In March 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the agency’s practice of relying solely on outstanding probation or parole violation arrest warrants to suspend or deny benefits conflicted with the plain meaning of the Social Security Act.

Under Judge Stein’s order, the SSA is enjoined from denying or suspending benefits in this manner and must reinstate all previously suspended benefits retroactive to the date the benefits were suspended. The SSA has until June 12, 2012, to submit a plan setting forth its anticipated time frames for implementing the terms of the order.

For more, click here.

Terminally ill die while waiting for Social Security because of backlogs

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that backlogs at the Social Security Administration are so large that some terminally ill people die before they can collect benefits that are due to them–like this deceased Legal Aid client.

“One person who died waiting was Dexter E. Penny of District Heights, Md., who applied for disability benefits in February 2009 after being diagnosed with colon cancer,” the article said. “His initial application was denied. Then his first appeal was denied on the grounds that he didn’t provide enough medical records.

“Mr. Penny, a mason, approached the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau for help a year after his first application. He couldn’t understand why terminal cancer wouldn’t qualify him for benefits, says his sister, Diane Penny.

Kate Lang, his lawyer, called four hospitals seeking additional records. Mr. Penny’s condition worsened. By September 2010, he was told he had stage-four cancer. Mr. Penny, 50 years old, was nearly broke and dying in the hospital and the agency wanted more accurate documentation to determine whether he was able to work, according to his sister.

“On Dec. 15, 2010, the agency informed him by letter that he had been granted benefits. Mr. Penny had died nine days earlier. The letter arrived the day of his funeral. On Jan. 31, the government sent him another letter saying his benefits had been revoked because he hadn’t responded to the agency’s questions in a timely manner.”

Social workers team up with Legal Aid lawyers

When clients come to Maryland Legal Aid, they’re often desperate. In addition to a pressing legal problem, they’re grappling with other issues that drive their lives into a crisis — no money, no housing or no medical care. Sometimes all of the above.

You could say they need a social worker almost as badly as a lawyer.

And you’d be right.

That’s why Legal Aid and the University of Maryland School of Social Work created a program that integrates first-year graduate social work students into the nonprofit law firm’s practice in downtown Baltimore.

“Clients come to us with a host of problems — the presenting legal problem, plus community-based needs,” said Cornelia Bright Gordon, chief attorney of Legal Aid’s administrative law and intake units. “For example, many people have barriers, such as mental health issues, that may interfere with the success of the legal problem. They need access to services to make the legal work stick.

“Since Legal Aid is the law firm of last resort, our clients are in true crisis,” Bright Gordon said. “They come in with threats of immediate eviction, no money or food in the house, and some are desperately ill, with no access to medical services and no insurance.”

The three-year-old project helps stabilize clients and bring their lives back to a state of equilibrium. “It’s a collaborative process between a lawyer and a trained social worker with hands-on, clinical therapeutic experience who is supervising four interns,” she said.

To read the entire Daily Record column, click here.

Multi-service center for poor to expand in Howard

A center for helping low-income residents of Howard County will expand this summer, the Howard County Times reported yesterday. The North Laurel-Savage Multi-Service Center, which provides a wide range of human service programs, will nearly double the number of clients served when it relocates in July. Maryland Legal Aid is one of the programs that helped about 1,900 families and individuals at the center last year.  “The idea is ‘one-stop shopping’ to streamline services to reduce the number of contacts and visits to various service providers,” said Denise McCain, Legal Aid’s director of program development and compliance.  “The average client has more than one issue and generally needs a multitude of services.” To read the article, click here.