Judge hears arguments in TennCare lawsuit, plans to rule next week

A federal judge plans to rule next week in a lawsuit seeking class-action status for would-be TennCare enrollees who charge Tennessee officials delayed processing their Medicaid applications for months despite requirements of the federal health care law, according to the Chattanooga TFP.

U.S. District Court Judge Todd Campbell of Nashville made the announcement Friday following three hours of sometimes heated arguments by attorneys for the would-be enrollees and the state.

Campbell will rule on the request for class-action status as well as plaintiffs’ request for an injunction.

The injunction would force the state’s Tenn-Care Bureau to follow the 45-day limit on processing applications in order to get people signed up more quickly for health coverage. It accuses the state of relying solely on the federal government’s online health care exchange to enroll applicants and doing virtually nothing to help Tennesseans who encounter problems enrolling.

In Tennessee, the Medicaid health coverage program for low-income mothers, their children and some disabled people is operated as TennCare.

The suit was filed on behalf of 11 named plaintiffs and other unnamed individuals by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Tennessee Justice Center and the National Health Law Program.

All of the named plaintiffs say their cases lingered for at least 140 days and others are said to have waited 200 or more days.

Tennessee officials concede their planned $35.7 million system designed to handle applications in conjunction with the federal heath insurance exchange system has been a bust.

Under the best-case scenario, the system is more than three months away from being operational. The state may have to switch contractors to get the job done. At this point they’ve hired a consultant to see how big a problem Tennessee has on its hands.

“The one option the state does not have is to throw up their hands and do nothing,” attorney Christopher Coleman with the Tennessee Justice Center told Campbell.

But state officials are seeking to lay problems at the feet of the Obama administration, saying they can’t get full access to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ system.