NBC 10 I-Team: Lawsuit claims thousands saw Medicare payments cut off
A class action lawsuit filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union alleges thousands of elderly and disabled Rhode Islanders saw a benefit that helps cover Medicare premiums cut off because of ongoing computer problems at the Department of Human Services.
The ACLU said many people saw the benefit, known as the Medicare Payment Program, or MPP, cut off without written explanation. In other cases, people received letters saying their benefits would end, but the space where a reason should be specified was left blank, or “N/A” was written instead.
If true, that would violate federal laws requiring adequate written notice and due process before MPP benefits can be terminated.
“State officials keep on talking about how hard they are working to fix [the] UHIP [computer system],” said ACLU Executive Director Steve Brown. “Nobody should find that response acceptable anymore. It’s been fifteen long months for many of the state’s poorest residents, so our response is: you clearly aren’t working hard enough.”
The lawsuit is the second the ACLU has filed on behalf of Rhode Islanders impacted by the troubled computer system, known as UHIP, installed at DHS in September 2016. The first case involves people who saw their food stamp benefits cut off or delayed.
According to the new lawsuit, the MPP benefit ranges from about $104 to $134 per month. Once Rhode Island’s DHS stopped those payments, elderly and disabled people who were impacted saw their Social Security benefits reduced as result. That caused a chain reaction, making other bills like rent, heating and groceries, difficult to pay, the ACLU said.
Two plaintiffs are named in the suit, Christopher Scherwitz of Johnston and John Figuried of Cranston.
Scherwtiz, 30, is disabled and receives Social Security Disability benefits of $889 per month as his only income. In June, the ACLU said Scherwitz’ MPP payments stopped, so the Social Security Administration reduced his benefits by $134 to cover the cost of his Medicare Part B Supplement. No reason for the MPP termination was given by Rhode Island officials, according to the lawsuit.
Figuried, 82, receives Social Security benefits due to his age and has received the MPP benefit for many years. In October, he received a letter saying MPP benefits would end, but no reason was given, according to the lawsuit.
The NBC 10 I-Team reached out to DHS for its response to the ACLU’s latest legal action.
“The State is working to address this issue - a result of the flawed Deloitte system -- and has been working in good faith with the ACLU on both an immediate mitigation plan and a plan to fully resolve the issue," Communications Director Ashley O’Shea said in a written statement. “Even one Rhode Islander experiencing this issue is one too many. We are continuing to hold Deloitte accountable for delivering a system that works for Rhode Island.”