Rutland, VT – Plaintiffs have overcome a major hurdle in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Medicare Advocacy and Vermont Legal Aid on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries with long-term and chronic conditions. In a comprehensive 35-page decision, Chief Judge Christina Reiss refused the federal government's request to throw out a lawsuit that seeks to end use of an illegal Improvement Standard to deny Medicare coverage. The Improvement Standard is a "rule of thumb" that Medicare uses to deny or terminate coverage to beneficiaries whose conditions are not improving. Jimmo v. Sebelius, Civil No. 5:11-CV-17 (D. VT. 10/25/2011).
"The Improvement Standard is the most unfair and harmful reason for Medicare denials," stated Judith Stein, executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. "It has a particularly devastating effect on patients with chronic conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, ALS, Parkinson's disease, and paralysis."
The lawsuit, which was filed in January of this year, was brought on behalf of a nationwide class of Medicare beneficiaries by six individual beneficiaries and seven national organizations representing people with chronic conditions.
In asking the court to dismiss the case, the government raised several arguments to contend that the court lacked jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' claims. The government also argued that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim, namely, that there was no proof that the government was even applying such a policy as the Improvement Standard. Judge Reiss rejected that contention. She did agree, however, that the court lacked jurisdiction over one beneficiary plaintiff and one organizational plaintiff, but the case will go forward with the remaining eleven plaintiffs.
"Judge Reiss understands the core issue plaintiffs in this case seek to address," stated Michael Benvenuto, attorney for plaintiffs from Vermont Legal Aid. "They are not seeking individual claim reviews; they are challenging a broad secret policy."
"This is a great first step for these plaintiffs and for Medicare beneficiaries in general," remarked Gill Deford, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "The Improvement Standard has been used for over 30 years to deprive hundreds of thousands of Medicare beneficiaries of coverage they desperately needed. This decision starts the process of ending that illegal policy."