Judge says LA County wrongly booted thousands off Medi-Cal

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge ruled that Los Angeles County wrongly canceled Medi-Cal coverage for thousands of residents, often leaving them without access to health care and needed medicines.

Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant said in his ruling that the county violated state law by terminating coverage for beneficiaries even though they turned in their renewal paperwork on time, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday. The judge ordered the county to fix the problem.

Nearly 4 million people in LA County rely on Medi-Cal, the state's version of Medicaid. The program is funded by state and federal government and provides coverage to low-income residents and people who are disabled.

From December 2016 to December 2017, about 22,000 people in LA County wrongly lost Medi-Cal benefits, according to evidence cited in the judge's decision. The problems appear to have resulted from a backlog of applications and a faulty computer system, according to court documents.

"We hope that now the county will no longer be yanking Medi-Cal from over 2,000 patients a month, and that patients in our county who desperately need this life-sustaining Medi-Cal coverage will be able to keep it," said David Kane, an attorney with the nonprofit Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed in December 2016 by several Medi-Cal beneficiaries represented by the nonprofit and other firms.

Carol Northern, one of the plaintiffs, said she was skeptical yet hopeful that the county would change its practices. Northern, who has a blood disease that requires several medicines, was kicked off Medi-Cal in 2016 even though she completed her renewal packet on time, she said.

"I would go in there to file my paperwork, I never knew what was going to happen," said Northern, who lives in Palmdale. "I think it's going to affect a lot of people, I'm flying high right now, but I still have the 'what ifs.'"

The judge found that the county had failed to uphold state law. A final judgment that includes a plan for how the county will fix the problem will be rendered in the next few months.

Once the judgment is finalized, county lawyers can appeal the decision.

"This matter is still before the court, so it would be inappropriate for the county to comment before the judge can rule on a final round of submissions in the case," a county spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. "However, it's important to note that we are strongly committed to serving the public and making improvements in our processes wherever we can."


Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/ http://www.latimes.com/

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Photo: Getty Images

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