© 2021 All Rights reserved WUSF
News, Jazz, NPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Health News Florida

In Lawsuit, Families Claim Florida Medicaid Is Improperly Denying Their Kids' Care

hospital bed.png

Two families from Northeast Florida claim the state's Medicaid program is illegally applying the same criteria to infants and children with medically complex needs that it applies to adults.

W.B., a 1-year-old boy with a rare genetic disorder called CHARGE syndrome, has spent much of his young life in Jacksonville-area hospitals. His doctors said that without treatment at a specialty clinic run by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, he would likely suffer developmental delays and other medical problems, but the state of Florida denied that treatment.

His is one of two families from Jacksonville and St. Augustine who are suing the state, arguing that Florida's Medicaid program is illegally denying specialized care for sick and disabled children based on a standard that violates federal law.

Federal Medicaid rules mandate coverage of “early and periodic screening, diagnostic and treatment services,” or EPSDT, for Medicaid-enrolled children.

Under EPSDT, states must provide all Medicaid-covered services necessary to “correct or ameliorate” physical or mental conditions of Medicaid beneficiaries under age 21, regardless of whether those services would be covered for adults.

“Our state Medicaid agency has refused to extend those protections to some of Florida’s most vulnerable children,” said lead attorney Katy DeBriere. “Instead, Florida insists on applying the same criteria to infants and children with medically complex needs that it applies to adults.”

Attorneys have identified about 1,000 families who last year appealed coverage denials with the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, which operates the state’s Medicaid program. The two named plaintiffs — who are referred to by their initials in court documents to protect their privacy — are medically fragile children who were denied care that their medical teams deemed critical.

The other named plaintiff, A.W., has quadriplegic cerebral palsy, global developmental delay, muscle spasticity and partial epilepsy. The 11-year-old girl requires a special enclosed bed with access ports to accommodate her overnight feeding tube and an unbroken perimeter to prevent serious injury.

“It’s terrifying to think what could happen without the special bed my daughter needs,” said A.W.’s mother. “It’s so stressful and frustrating knowing that medical equipment that would keep her safe is not available to her because Florida Medicaid won’t cover it. They also did not consider her quality of life when they denied the equipment. My child, like all special needs children, deserves that consideration."

A spokesperson for AHCA said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

State courts have since 2006 found on at least four occasions that AHCA improperly applied Medicaid rules. In one case, a judge found the state improperly reduced the home health aides available to a medically vulnerable child against the recommendation of the child’s doctor and outside medical experts. In another, a judge found that state regulators denied a child medically necessary growth hormones by applying the same too-strict standard for what qualifies as medically necessary.

“I don’t want to speculate about why the state has persisted in using this definition, but certainly the state court system has disagreed with it,” DeBriere said. “So now, we are asking the federal court, who has the power to tell the state agency to stop using it, asking them for a final decision on the matter.”

The legal team, which includes attorneys from the National Health Law Program and has the support of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, is asking a federal judge to reverse the AHCA’s decision not to cover care for the two Northeast Florida families, and for a permanent change to the state’s rules about what care it has to cover.

Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org, or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.

Copyright 2021 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online.