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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 21 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 08
Lambda Legal files suit to defend insurance coverage for HIV+ patients
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Lambda Legal files suit to defend insurance coverage for HIV+ patients

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Lambda Legal filed a federal class action suit February 20 against Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Louisiana, the largest insurance provider in the state. BCBS has announced it will no longer accept Ryan White premium subsidies, federally-funded payments that enable low-income people with HIV to purchase health insurance.

Two other insurance companies, Louisiana Health Cooperative and Vantage Health Plan followed BCBS and are also named as defendants.

Lambda Legal is seeking an emergency injunction to force all three defendants to accept the premium payments and to provide health insurance to former clients until the lawsuit is heard.

'The situation is urgent,' Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal, said.

'Refusing federal funds that provide life-saving care to people living with HIV could potentially affect thousands of low-income Louisiana residents. This discriminatory policy keeps low-income people living with HIV off of Blue Cross Blue Shield's insurance rolls, perpetuating the deliberate insurance industry practice of denying coverage to those living with HIV that the Affordable Care Act was designed to reverse. Continuous coverage is critical for people living with HIV. The health care crisis these insurers have created must be stopped.'

Lambda Legal is suing on behalf of John East, a part-time worker in the hospitality industry, and other low-income Louisianans living with HIV.

East, a 59-year-old New Orleans man insured by BCBS for nearly 30 years, learned in mid-January that BCBS would no longer accept the federal subsidies he used to pay his insurance premiums.

Without the subsidies, East says, he cannot afford his medical care and HIV medications.

'I couldn't believe it when I was told BCBS would no longer accept my Ryan White insurance subsidies,' East said.

'What am I supposed to do now? I've been with BCBS for 29 years. I paid my premiums that whole time, and now they are finding a way to dump me just because I'm living with HIV. I need these medications to stay healthy, so that I can continue to work and contribute to my community.'

The Louisiana Ryan White Health Insurance Program is a federally-funded program that functions as the payer of last resort, helping low-income individuals living with HIV purchase health insurance they could not otherwise afford. Beginning this month, BCBS of Louisiana abruptly stopped accepting Ryan White premium subsidies, from current policy-holders and new enrollees alike.

Lambda Legal sent a letter to BCBS of Louisiana on January 27, asking that the insurance provider reverse its policy and resume accepting Ryan White premium subsidies or explain the rationale for its abrupt and harmful policy shift.

Lambda Legal attorneys requested a response by January 30, but BCBS of Louisiana has yet to reply.

Lambda Legal's lawsuit follows earlier efforts, including complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights, to persuade the insurers to continue accepting federal Ryan White premium subsidies.

The New Orleans AIDS Task Force is also assisting in this project, Lambda Legal said.

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