Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s systemic work has been critically important in 2018, impacting a wider scope of NC residents beyond the organization’s direct individual legal services. For many families struggling to become self-sufficient, their well being is dependent on maintaining access to benefits that offer health, food and income security. But for some, including disabled, elderly and non-English speaking people, systemic obstacles from government agencies often hinder access to critical services and benefits. The Center’s Family Support and Health Care Program seeks to ensure that low-income individuals and families have fair access to vital health care and public services.
In October, attorneys argued before the N.C. Supreme Court in the case of Pachas v. N.C. Department of Health and Human Services that the state was violating federal Medicaid law in applying its definition of family size to determine eligibility for benefits.
The Center brought the case on behalf of a terminally ill man, Mr. Pachas, who had been the primary provider for his wife, two young daughters, and elderly in-laws and was trying to support his family on Social Security disability benefits before eventually qualifying for Medicaid benefits that covered his medical treatment. Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services determined that Pachas’ income was above the federal poverty level based on the level of an individual, not for a family, and required him to pay a large deductible on his Medicaid benefits. Had the department applied the federal poverty level standard for a family, Pachas would have been eligible for Medicaid benefits without having to pay a deductible. While Pachas has since passed away, the Center continues to advocate for his family and the thousands of North Carolinians who may have been denied medical coverage based on the same error.
The Center also recently got a preliminary injunction issued in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of N.C. for a class action case (Hawkins v. Cohen) seeking relief for thousands of N.C. residents whose Medicaid benefits were being terminated without warning and a determination that these residents were no longer eligible because of improper practices by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The improper actions included due process violations, failure to reasonably accommodate the disabled, and creating barriers to access for recipients with limited English proficiency. The court also recently certified the class-action and granted preliminary injury relief.