The Maine Public Broadcasting Network
Listen Live
Classical 24
Visible By Administrators Only
Class Action Suit Filed on Behalf of Disabled Mainers
01/30/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

A group of 18 men and women with intellectual disabilities has filed a class action lawsuit against Gov. Paul LePage, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, and DHHS Director of Disability Services Ricker Hamilton over lack of access to support services required under MaineCare.  as Patty Wight reports, the lawsuit charges that the state of Maine has let not only them, but dozens of other impaired adults as well.

Related Media
Class Action Suit Filed on Behalf of Disabled Main
Originally Aired: 1/30/2013 5:30 PM

Currently in Maine the waiting list for adults with disabilities to receive housing and other support services contains more than a thousand names This lawsuit deals with 176 of them. They're in the "Priority One" section, which means they have mental impairments so severe - from Down Syndrome to psychological disorders - that they are at risk for abuse, exploitation, and neglect.

Some, for example, have aging parents who are no longer capable of caring for them. The attorney who represents 18 of these adults in the class action suit is Gerald Petruccelli.

"These are people with acute, present needs," he says. "We are not talking about unemployment benefits, we are not talking about welfare benefits. We are talking about caring for some people who actually cannot care for themselves in the most basic way, and in some cases even feed themselves."

Petrucelli says this isn't a question of should the state provide support. He says the state is legally required to do so. That's because these adults are covered under MaineCare, the state version of the federal Medicaid program. And back in the '80s, Maine received federal approval to provide residential and community services to a select number of severely disabled adults. Currently, that number is set at nearly 3,000.

But Petruccelli says Maine isn't filling - or paying for - more than 100 of those slots. "And so we have brought this suit to ask the court to order the state to appropriate the money to fill the slots it has committed to fill. That won't take care of all the need, but at least they should do what they're legally obligated to do."

This problem actually began during the Baldacci administration. In 2008, facing state revenue problems, the waiting list for these services was closed. It re-opened within the past year or so, and Gov. LePage plans to provide funding to take 85 people off the waiting list.

Mary Lou Dyer applauds LePage's plan.  She's managing director for the Maine Association of Community Service Providers, which serves people with intellectual disabilities. But she says the state has already slashed over $3 million from the program, and at the same time LePage is pledging to take 85 people off the waiting list, the program is facing an additional $850,000 cut.

"It's a very complicated situation where there's aspects of the budget that put money into the waiver for the wait list, but then other parts of it take money completely out of the system," she says.

No one from the LePage administration was available to discuss the waiting list, and it's state policy not to comment on pending litigation. Attorney Gerald Petruccelli says similar cases around the country have required states to pay their Medicare obligations. But this lawsuit intends to go a step beyond:  It also wants to expand the number of slots the state funds. The precedent for that, says Petrucelli, is less clear.



Become a Fan of the NEW MPBNNews Facebook page. Get news, updates and unique content to share and discuss:

Recommended by our audience on Facebook:
Copyright © 2015 Maine Public Broadcasting Network. All rights reserved.