June 21, 2018
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Settlement helps special-needs kids

By Meg Haskell, BDN Staff

Families of young children with special needs will have more opportunities to obtain the services they need after a court settlement announced this week.

The case, a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in Bangor earlier this year, charged the state Department of Health and Human Services with failure to comply with federal Medicaid rules in meeting the educational needs of mentally and physically disabled youngsters. The complaint, filed by the Augusta-based nonprofit Maine Equal Justice Partners, centered on the department’s contractual relationship with Child Development Services, a special-education program within the Department of Education.

Child Development Services and DHHS both use Medicaid funds to provide services to young children, but the two programs use different eligibility standards. The suit claimed that some children with severe disabilities were being denied services by CDS and their families were not being allowed to appeal the decision through DHHS.

“This bureaucratic system often creates confusion for families when they are trying to get services for their children with special health needs,” Jack Comart, litigation director for Maine Equal Justice Partners, said in a statement Thursday.

The settlement calls for all families seeking services from CDS to be advised of their ability to seek services from MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, as well. Parents will have the option of seeking services for their children through either or both programs, although duplication of services will not be allowed.

“The goal, eventually, is to have a seamless system … so that parents seeking services for their children need not go from one state agency to another,” Comart said. “To get to this integrated system may take some time.”

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