For evidence of the wide impact of federal court of appeals decisions, look no further than the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which recently held in a case called OKAAP v. Fogarty that there is no relief available for a group of children in Oklahoma whose parents brought suit because they were unable to obtain basic health screenings and treatment services through Medicaid due to the low rates the state pays to health care providers. In doing so, the court followed its equally problematic September 2006 decision in Mandy R. v. Owens, a case involving Colorado Medicaid recipients.
In Mandy R., six developmentally disabled individuals sued after trying unsuccessfully for some time to be accepted into the state’s programs for comprehensive residential services. The opinion narrowly interpreted the Medicaid law to require only that states pay some amount for medical care, even though the state knew it wasn’t paying enough for necessary services to actually be provided. The court also interpreted a Supreme Court decision in 2002 narrowing the right to sue under federal law to support its decision that, even if the state were in violation of its obligation to make proper payments, individuals do not have the right to challenge that violation. Judge McConnell, a Bush appointee whose nomination was opposed by NWLC, wrote this decision.
The interpretation of the Medicaid law that put form over substance now binds the entire Tenth Circuit, which covers Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming. Unfortunately, people across all those states will suffer from the lack of judicial protection for their access to health services.