ATLANTA – Multiple organizations that provide services to people with disabilities took their fight to the state’s highest court Monday over reductions they say state officials made in benefits without telling anyone.
The groups, such as United Cerebral Palsy of Georgia, only learned in 2013 through internal audits that the state had been paying less in Medicaid benefits since 2008. The groups contend state agencies never issued proper written notices nor held public hearings before instituting the reductions.
What the seven justices on the Georgia Supreme Court are trying to decide first is how the groups should go about trying to making their case.
Lawyers for the groups, and the people getting the actual benefits, filed a class-action lawsuit in Fulton Superior Court against the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and the Georgia Department of Community Health. The judge ruled the state did not follow its own procedures about notices and hearings, but she also threw out the lawsuit because the groups had not taken their case first to the agencies’ administrative complaint process.
The Court of Appeals reversed the decision and sided with the groups. So, now attorneys for the state are asking the Supreme Court to agree with the first judge and toss the case out.
Eric Taylor, the attorney for the various groups and individual beneficiaries, told the justices the state’s administrative-hearing rules require filings within 30 days of the notice being issued. If the state doesn’t issue a notice, then there is no provision under the rules to raise a complaint, essentially giving the agencies a free pass, he said.
“There’s no way to open the door without the keys, and the departments made the door, created the lock, created the mechanism to give up the key into the room, but they didn’t give us the notice,” he said.
But Josh Belinfante, an attorney representing the state, said the groups needed to try the administrative process before going to court.
“They never knocked on the doors; they never tried,” he said.
The reason, he said, is because the groups’ lawyers wanted a class-action suit where all of the cases would be combined into one, and if there is a financial award, it would be multiplied through the bigger group. The administrative rules require each individual complaint to be considered one at a time.
The Supreme Court usually hands down its decision in three or four months.
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