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Waiting List Lawsuit Dismissed
January 27, 2002

The US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed the class action lawsuit filed by the Disability Law Project on behalf of Hasson Sabree, et.al. against former Secretary of Public Welfare Feather Houstoun. The plaintiffs alleged that they were entitled to services in small community-based intermediate care facilities for mentally retarded persons (ICF/MR), under Title XIX of the Social Security Act. They wanted the Court to force the Commonwealth to fulfill former Governor Tom Ridge's 5-year plan and $853 million budget to provide services to persons on the "Waiting List." The Court found that Title XIX, which establishes the Medicaid program, "does not confer privately enforceable rights."

The question before the Court, as stated in the Memorandum and Order, is:

"Did Congress, in enacting the Medicaid Act, unambiguously confer upon the mentally handicapped beneficiaries of the Act, a right to enforce the requirement that the State make available small, community based ICF/MR services and that such services be provided with reasonable promptness?"

The Court determined that "...Title XIX does not have the rights-creating language integral to a showing of Congressional intent to confer rights."

Additionally, the plaintiffs had claimed that the Medicaid requirement for a written plan of care for "each patient" conferred individual rights. The Court, however, found that this section was designed to ensure that people truly need such services and is actually for the benefit of the government, which funds such programs. The Court recognized that small, community based services would probably benefit the plaintiffs, but that the sections of law cited did not confer the right to those services.

The Disability Law Project plans to appeal this decision in its ongoing advocacy efforts for persons on the "Waiting List" for MR services and supports. This precedent of giving only the federal government the right to sue on Medicaid issues is an important one to watch.

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