Lagging Health Connect Problems Have Created A Bottleneck For Medicaid Upgrades

Trinka Kerr, the State Health Care Advocate, said that slicing and dicing claims data in more sophisticated ways could help identify people who might be falling through the cracks — such as someone using the emergency room a lot, or not filling prescriptions, or missing appointments for preventive care.

...Kerr said a good case manager will look at a beneficiary’s barriers to care, and try to eliminate them. She said claims analysis also is important for provider accountability.

Opinion: Shaking down the poor

The Agency of Human Services has wisely agreed to hold off on a punitive cut in state benefits to Vermonters with disabilities. The action came in response to a class-action lawsuit by Vermont Legal Aid on behalf of Vermonters who stand to lose $125 each month in state benefits because they suffer from a disability.

Vermont Legal Aid reacted quickly to the latest affront enacted by the Shumlin administration in seeking to shake down not just the poor, but the poor and disabled. The state may now see the error of its ways.

[Also published in the Rutland Herald]

VT Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights meeting Monday, August 10

Vermont Legal Aid's testing coordinator, Marsha Curtis, and staff attorney Rebecca Plummer will be among the government officials, representatives of advocacy organizations, and other panelists who will present before the Vermont Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on August 10.

The panelists will seek to provide a better understanding of the scope of housing discrimination in Vermont and potential solutions to remedy the problem. 

Reach Up families get two-month reprieve

Vermont Legal Aid and the state have reached a temporary agreement that forestalls a reduction in Reach Up benefits for households that include a disabled adult who receives benefits through Social Security.

“In a misguided attempt to reduce the budget deficit, the Legislature has chosen to unlawfully reduce Reach Up grants for those families that include a disabled adult household member in receipt of Supplemental Security Income (SSI),” wrote Christopher Curtis, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid, in a complaint filed July 23 in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

Low-Income Households Get Reprieve From Looming Benefit Cuts

Vermont Legal Aid filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of the approximately 860 affected households, which would have seen monthly benefit reductions of up to $125.

"We are very pleased that our clients and other affected beneficiaries can expect to receive their regular benefit amounts for August and September," Sandy Paritz, Poverty Law Project Director at Vermont Legal Aid, said in a written statement. "These families are already experiencing severe economic distress and cannot afford to lose a dime.”

New psychiatric facility hasn’t solved crisis in care

Jack McCullough, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid who represents people with mental illness, said that the system of care isn’t good enough. Even if the “majority of people wait for under 24 hours, there are still people waiting for days.”

He cites a case this year in which a person was stuck in the emergency department of a general hospital for almost a month. It was an involuntary treatment case and the patient didn’t see a psychiatrist because there wasn’t one at the hospital.

“He was basically just locked up,” McCullough said, adding that it’s a violation of the patient’s liberties. “It takes a lot to justify keeping someone locked up and if you are going to hold them in a place where they are not getting real treatment for their condition – I think we have a very serious problem,” he said.

New York Times: A Slack Lifeline for Drowning Homeowners

After Lucy Circe became disabled and could no longer work, she applied to Bank of America for a mortgage loan modificationon her Vermont home. Over more than two years, starting in 2012, the bank repeatedly requested copies of documents that had already been provided, asked for proof that she was no longer married to a man she did not even know, and made other errors, like asking why Ms. Circe had indicated that she didn’t want to keep her property when she had actually told the bank she did.

Ms. Circe’s efforts to modify her loan took a number of twists and turns. Jessica Radbord, [Circe's] lawyer at Vermont Legal Aid in Burlington, kept battling on her behalf. Finally, in April, Bank of America agreed to modify Ms. Circe’s loan.

“It’s kind of stunning when they come back with all these strange reasons for denials,” Ms. Radbord said. “What really bothers me is, how on earth would a homeowner be able do this on their own?”

Homeowners wouldn’t be, and the government isn’t helping them much. That goes a long way toward explaining how a program intended to help four million troubled borrowers instead gave them the boot.

[Read the report on the federal government’s Home Affordable Modification Program. The New York Times suggests that the “disturbing report” shows that "Ms. Circe’s experience was anything but unique."]

Will Vt. Health Connect fixes be done on time?

"They are making progress, it's just excruciatingly slow," said Trinka Kerr of Vermont Legal Aid.

Kerr is the state's chief health care advocate and helps those with insurance issues they can't sort out on their own. She says the system has improved for those with new change requests, but billing problems are not getting better.

Kerr says she's concerned that in each monthly report, target dates for completing various tasks get pushed back.

"I am concerned about the slippage," Kerr said.

Editorial: Vermont Cuts Benefit for the Disabled

Vermont Legal Aid has taken up the cause of the Reach Up families, and last Thursday filed a federal lawsuit to block the impending cut. Christopher Curtis, the Vermont Legal Aid lawyer who filed the court action, bluntly called the proposed reduction a “poor tax.”

As for us, we question the sense and effectiveness of cutting assistance to families in such circumstances. It would squeeze those with little or no wiggle room in their budget, and hamper those striving to be independent.

Blue Cross Blue Shield Seeks 7.2 Percent Premium Increase

The technical debate during the board's hearing on the Blue Cross rate request Wednesday morning focused on how much it should set aside in reserve to cover unexpected increases in claims. Lila Richardson, the lawyer representing the Vermont Office of Health Care Advocate, argued Blue Cross had "overstated the reserve it needs."