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People On Waiting Lists Score Legal Victory In Pennsylvania
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
May 13, 2004

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA--People who are on waiting lists for Medicaid-funded community-based services can sue states if they do not receive those services in a reasonable time, the Court of Appeals for the Third District ruled Tuesday.

The decision in the class action suit means that states cannot use a lack of funding as a reason to deny community services to people that have intellectual disabilities.

The case, known as Sabree v. Richman, was originally filed in May 2002 against the secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Public Welfare, on behalf of three people with intellectual disabilities who live with their families. The three represent thousands of others who are on waiting lists for residential services in the state -- many of whom have been waiting for services for several years.

The plaintiffs claimed in the suit that Title XIX of the Social Security Act, which covers the federal Medical Assistance (Medicaid) statute, gives them the right to receive residential services through intermediate care facilities for people with mental retardation (ICF/MRs), and that the state violated the federal law by failing to provide them with those supports.

The Department of Public Welfare argued that, while the federal government can withhold funds as a way to punish states for failing to provide Medicaid services, individual Medicaid recipients cannot sue the states to enforce the law.

In January of 2003, U.S. District Judge Herbert J. Hutton agreed with DPW and dismissed the suit. The plaintiffs immediately filed their appeal.

On Tuesday, the three-judge appellate court disagreed with Judge Hutton, noting that Congress "clearly and unambiguously conferred the rights of which the plaintiffs have allegedly been deprived" by the state and "has not precluded individual enforcement of those rights."

"Promises have been made and broken by the politicians," said Dee Coccia, Co-Executive Director of Vision for Equality, in a statement. "It is unfortunate that families were so desperate that they felt they had no option but to resort to the courts for justice and then we had the profound disappointment of being told that we could not even have our claims heard."

"We are extremely pleased that the decision today from the Third Circuit will allow us to have our day in court."

Sabree v. Richman (U.S. Court of Appeals For the Third District)


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