Legal advocacy groups file federal suit against TennCare

Agencies allege state is breaking federal law over eligibility determinations

Three legal advocacy groups have filed a federal class action lawsuit against the state of Tennessee over issues with the state's TennCare program.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, the Tennessee Justice Center and National Health Law Program have filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee to address TennCare's failure to meet a number of federal requirements for the state's Medicaid program.

Accusing the state of purposefully constricting the program in political opposition to the Affordable Care Act, Sam Brooke, staff attorney with the SPLC, said Tennessee has made it harder than any other state to apply for coverage.

"Tennessee officials are sacrificing the health of the state's most vulnerable citizens just to score political points," Brooke said in a release. "They're throwing a monkey wrench into their own Medicaid program so they can demonize the federal government. People in dire need of medical care are being sacrificed."

The suit centers around the federal requirement that Medicaid applications be processed within 45 days. Brooke said many of his clients have had their applications pending for more than 140 days. Part of the problem is that Tennessee ceased in-person assistance for residents applying for TennCare in the fall of 2013 and began directing all applicants to the federal system, which cannot determine eligibility. A chief factor in the delays is the state's uncompleted computer system, a $35 million project that would streamline enrollment.

TennCare Director Darin Gordon responded to federal criticism of the agency earlier this month, disputing that it was noncompliant with six of the seven current ACA Medicaid requirements. Gordon (pictured) also said, "We too are frustrated with our vendor's delays with [the Tennessee Eligibility Determination Systems] and are working diligently with our vendor to correct these and successfully implement this system as expeditiously as possible."

For the full complaint, click here.