Louisiana Insurers to Continue Accepting Ryan White Funds as Lambda Legal Lawsuit Progresses
(Baton Rouge, LA, February 25, 2014) – BlueCross BlueShield of Louisiana (BCBS) and two other Louisiana insurers will continue to accept federally-funded third party premium funds for the time being as Lambda Legal’s lawsuit against the insurance companies progresses through the courts.
Late yesterday, a U.S. District Court judge granted Lambda Legal’s request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to compel BCBS, Louisiana Health Cooperative and Vantage Health Plan to continue accepting the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program funds that enable low-income Louisianans living with HIV to purchase health insurance.
Today, based on in-court promises that the insurers will continue to accept payments using these federal funds until March 31--which is three weeks after the date the TRO would have expired--the judge lifted the TRO. In addition, the judge scheduled a hearing for March 10 on Lambda Legal’s request for a preliminary injunction to require the insurers to continue accepting the payments for the duration of the litigation.
“This is an important first step in preserving critical health insurance coverage for low-income individuals living with HIV and in halting the deliberate insurance industry practice of discriminating against people with HIV in general,” said Scott Schoettes, Senior Attorney and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal. “As we said when we filed this lawsuit last week, the situation is urgent. Potentially thousands of lower-income Louisianans are at risk of losing access to essential life-saving care. At least for the short term, this will preserve the necessary access as we pursue our lawsuit and other measures to ensure the continuous coverage that people living with HIV require.”
Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit last week 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 Whitefundsfor which hequalifies. Without the support, 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 Serves Office of Civil Rights—to persuade the insurers to continue accepting federal Ryan White premium funds. The New Orleans AIDS Task Forceisassisting in this advocacy.
The Louisiana Ryan White Health Insurance Program is a federally-funded program that functions as the payer of last resort, helping lower-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 funds, 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 funds or explain the rationale for its abrupt and harmful policy shift. BCBS of Louisiana never responded to that letter.
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 assistingwith advocacy in this matter.
The case is East v. BlueCross BlueShield of Louisiana, No.:3:14-CV-00115-BAJ-RLB.
The decision of the District Court granting the TRO is available here: http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/bcbs_la_20140224_tro
Read more about the case here: http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/east-v-bcbs