Lambda Legal Files Federal Lawsuit Against Louisiana Insurers for Dumping People with HIV
(New Orleans, LA, February 20, 2014) – Lambda Legal today filed a federal class action discrimination lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana against BlueCross BlueShield of Louisiana (BCBS), which will no longer accept the federally-funded premium subsidies that enable low-income Louisianans living with HIV to purchase health insurance. Two other insurers included as defendants—Louisiana Health Cooperative and Vantage Health Plan—are also following the lead of Louisiana’s largest insurer, BCBS. Lambda Legal is seeking an emergency injunction to force all three defendants to accept the premium payments and to provide health insurance until the lawsuit is heard.
“The situation is urgent. Refusing federal funds that provide life-saving care to people living with HIV could potentially affect thousands of low-income Louisiana residents,” said Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal. “This discriminatory policy keeps low-income people living with HIV off of BlueCross BlueShield’s insurance rolls, perpetuating the deliberate insurance industry practice of denying coverage to those living with HIV that the Affordable Care Act was designed to reverse. Continuous coverage is critical for people living with HIV. The health care crisis these insurers have created must be stopped.”
Lambda Legal filed today’s lawsuit on behalf of John East, a part-time worker in the hospitality industry, and other low-income Louisianans living with HIV. East, a 59-year-old New Orleans man insured by BCBS for nearly 30 years, learned in mid-January that BCBS would no longer accept the federal Ryan White subsidies for which he qualifies. Without the subsidies, East will not be able to afford his medical care and HIV medications. Lambda Legal’s lawsuit follows earlier efforts—including complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights—to persuade the insurers to continue accepting federal Ryan White premium subsidies. The New Orleans AIDS Task Force is assisting in this advocacy.
“I couldn’t believe it when I was told BCBS would no longer accept my Ryan White insurance subsidies,” East said. “What am I supposed to do now? I’ve been with BCBS for 29 years. I paid my premiums that whole time, and now they are finding a way to dump me just because I’m living with HIV. I need these medications to stay healthy, so that I can continue to work and contribute to my community.”
The Louisiana Ryan White Health Insurance Program is a federally-funded program that functions as the payer of last resort, helping low-income individuals living with HIV purchase health insurance they could not otherwise afford. Beginning this month, BCBS of Louisiana abruptly stopped accepting Ryan White premium subsidies, from current policyholders and new enrollees alike.
Lambda Legal sent a letter to BCBS of Louisiana on January 27, 2014, asking that the insurance provider reverse its policy change and resume accepting Ryan White premium subsidies or explain the rationale for its abrupt and harmful policy shift. Lambda Legal requested a response by January 30, 2014, but BCBS of Louisiana never responded.
Lambda Legal attorneys Kenneth Upton, Scott Schoettes and Susan Sommer are handling the case, joined by pro-bono co-counsel Jeffrey J. Bushofsky, Timothy R. Farrell, Amanda R. Phillips, and Anthony C. Biagioli of Ropes & Gray LLP; and Harry Rosenberg of Phelps Dunbar LLP. AIDSLaw of Louisiana is also assisting with advocacy in this matter.
The case is East v. BlueCross BlueShield of Louisiana. A Link to the complaint is here: http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/bcbs_la_20140220_complaint