Judge releases Tennessee’s Medicaid program from injunction
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal judge on Wednesday released Tennessee’s Medicaid program from a 2014 injunction requiring it to hold hearings for people whose applications aren’t processed promptly.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge William Campbell Jr. noted that the number of delayed applications at TennCare has steadily declined over the years, and more than 99 percent of applications are now processed within the required time frame. That is 45 days for most Medicaid forms and 90 days for applications based on a disability.
When the lawsuit was filed in 2014, attorneys claimed thousands of people had been left in indefinite limbo — their applications neither accepted nor rejected — because a new computer system designed to help process their applications wasn’t functional.
In September 2014, a judge ordered TennCare to provide those people with hearings so they could learn what problems were delaying their applications and try to fix them.
The plaintiffs had asked the court to make the injunction permanent, noting at the trial last October that Tennessee’s computer system is still not fully operational, and some people are still experiencing delays in obtaining urgently needed health care.
In his ruling, Campbell wrote, “The law does not require that a state Medicaid agency implement a flawless program.”
He cited TennCare Director Wendy Long’s testimony that the systemic delays in 2014 are no more, and while some individuals still experience delays, those are due to the specific circumstances of the person’s case.
Campbell also concluded that applicants will continue to receive hearings when delays occur, as required by law, without the necessity of a court order.
The Southern Poverty Law Center was one of the organizations representing TennCare applicants in the case. In an emailed statement on the ruling, deputy legal director Sam Brooke said, “We are disappointed by this most recent decision, but thankful for the relief the Court has already granted tens of thousands of individuals who were facing illegal delays.”