Court rejects restraining order to halt Medicaid cuts set for March 1

Posted Feb. 28, 2013, at 6:27 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A federal judge on Thursday denied a request for a temporary restraining order filed by the advocacy group Maine Equal Justice Partners seeking to block Medicaid cuts for disabled and elderly recipients scheduled to take effect March 1.

The group filed its request on Feb. 20, in cooperation with the National Health Law Program and the Center for Medicare Advocacy, on behalf of five Maine residents whose health care coverage through MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, would be terminated. In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services approved some Medicaid cuts proposed by the LePage administration to balance the state budget.

“It bears emphasis, however, that this decision is based largely on the procedural posture of the motion and the underdeveloped state of the record,” U.S. District Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. wrote in denying the request, adding that the parties will have an opportunity to further develop their evidence and arguments and the decision does not eliminate the possibility of some preliminary injunctive relief.

In denying the temporary restraining order, Woodcock wrote that such orders are intended to be used in emergency situations and are “an extraordinary equitable measure used to forestall irreversible consequences and preserve the status quo for a fuller deliberation of the merits of the case.”

The court decided the case didn’t meet that emergency standard.

“While the plaintiffs unquestionably face financial hardship, their case does not present the type of emergency that justifies a [temporary restraining order],” the decision states.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are Louis and Katherine Bourgoin, both of Lewiston; Heidi Brooks of Lewiston; Katherine Sherrard of Kennebunk and Donna Stevens of Waterville. All are between 42 and 67 years old and are disabled, according a news release from Maine Equal Justice Partners.

Louis Bourgoin, 68, has been diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer and undergoes chemotherapy, according to his wife, Katherine Bourgoin, 69. He also has a stomach tumor, she said. They have Medicare, the federal health care coverage available to people age 65 and older. Until March 1, Medicaid pays to supplement their Medicare.

Maine Equal Justice Partners argued that eliminating coverage for the plaintiffs and other Maine residents who qualify for Medicaid under similar circumstances would violate the “maintenance of effort” section of the Affordable Care Act, which largely prohibits states from scaling back existing Medicaid services in advance of the law’s major expansion of Medicaid in 2014. Medicaid is a joint state and federal program that provides health insurance for low-income and some disabled people.

In all, the cuts proposed by the state would have eliminated coverage for 36,000 residents. They were approved in the Legislature last year as part of two supplemental budget packages and originally were scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, 2012. The cuts allowed by the federal government would save the state approximately $4 million of the $20 million the LePage administration originally sought.

BDN reporter Robert Long contributed to this report.

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