News

Health Advocates Urge Federal Court to Reverse Trump’s Approval of Medicaid Transformation in Kentucky

The National Health Law Program today issued this press release. Kentucky Equal Justice Center and Southern Poverty Law Center are co-counsel in the lawsuit.

Washington – Representing Kentuckians enrolled in Medicaid, the National Health Law Program, Kentucky Equal Justice Center (KEJC), and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) today urged a federal judge to block the Medicaid waiver scheme because it violates the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ authority under the Social Security Act.

The law firm Jenner & Block is counsel to the National Health Law Program in the case, Stewart v. Azar.

In the Stewart oral argument, Ian Gershengorn, partner with Jenner & Block, argued that the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services violated federal law when it approved the waiver request from Kentucky health officials. Gershengorn urged the court to vacate the approval because it will directly harm the plaintiffs in this case, as well as similarly situated Kentuckians, by jeopardizing their access to health care.

“The Kentucky waiver project, with its burdensome work requirements, premiums, and lock-out penalties, is an effort by Kentucky and HHS to transform the Medicaid program,” said Gershengorn, also a member of the National Health Law Program Board. “The law that the administration is operating under requires these waivers to further the purpose of the Medicaid Act, which is to furnish medical assistance. The waivers here do exactly the opposite – they restrict coverage and impede access to needed care. Unlike some other public assistance programs, Medicaid is not a jobs-training program, and the administration does not have the authority to turn it into one. The rule of law requires that the president adhere to and uphold federal law, not subvert it.”

National Health Law Program Legal Director Jane Perkins noted, “The statute also only allows the federal government to approve experimental projects designed to improve the administration of Medicaid. The restrictive policies approved in the Kentucky waiver have been previously tested in other public benefits programs, and consistently found to result in people losing eligibility and coverage. By the government’s own estimates, if allowed to stand, the approval will cause at least 100,000 Kentuckians to lose coverage. Health researchers estimate that the loses will be much higher.”
KEJC Senior Attorney Anne Marie Regan said, “Kentucky expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in 2014. Since then, the percentage of uninsured Kentuckians has gone from being one of the highest in the county to one of the lowest. We see our clients and low-income people all across the Commonwealth finally getting the preventive services and medical treatment they need. Medicaid coverage enables people to work. This approval got it exactly backwards by conditioning health coverage on work.”

Southern Poverty Law Center Deputy Legal Director Samuel Brooke said, “HHS failed to assess the impact of the waiver on low-income people. Many people enrolled in Medicaid are struggling to make it in low-wage jobs. Under this waiver, many of them will be forced off Medicaid, and will likely be unable to afford private health coverage. The Trump administration’s approval of this waiver was a critical misstep that should not be allowed to stand.”

Plaintiff Ronnie Stewart, 62, lives alone in Lexington, Kentucky. Before retiring from full time work, Mr. Stewart worked in the health care field in clinics and hospital settings. He is now unable to stay on his feet all day because of diabetes, arthritis, and high blood pressure, but under the waiver, he is expected to keep working until he is 64. Medicaid enables him to obtain treatment for these conditions, but that access to health care is now in jeopardy.

“Donald Trump made promises to protect Medicaid when he was campaigning, but as president, he is not doing that,” Stewart said. “I’m not alone in this predicament. There are many Kentuckians in the same boat, and we need the judge to reverse this harmful attack on Medicaid. We need to start promoting the common good by supporting Medicaid and other programs that benefit low-income and working Americans, rather than catering to special interests.”

For more comment on today’s oral argument from the attorneys, please contact: Jeremy Leaming, National Health Law Program, 301.233.0867, leaming@healthlaw.org; Anne Marie Regan, KEJC, 502.468.9403, amregan@kyequaljustice.org; or Jen Fuson, SPLC,202.834.6209, jen.fuson@splcenter.org.

Victim of Crime Act grant brings new staff, challenges to Maxwell Street

Our immigration law program at Maxwell Street Legal Clinic welcomes new staff to help immigrant victims of crime! A grant under the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) is funding two new case handlers and one new legal assistant at Maxwell Street. The new team will help victims of crime, survivors of domestic violence, and abandoned or abused children apply for immigration relief.
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One of the new case handlers, Michelle Haubner, is moving to this new role after six months as a legal assistant at Maxwell Street. In her work there, Michelle has “most enjoyed being able to make connections with people from many different cultures, communities and backgrounds.” She looks forward to working directly with clients to help them reach their immigration goals.

Allison Hight joined the team this summer after graduating law school at the University of Michigan. She decided to go to law school in order to help immigrants and refugees and says she spent her three years in school, “itching to do the kind of work MSLC does.” Allison is eager to begin “working with clients to make both their immigration status and their lives more secure.”

Maddy Clark will be working with Michelle and Allison as the VOCA Legal Assistant. Maddy brings strong Spanish skills from her experience translating for the International Human Rights film festival in Argentina and from working with immigrants at a nonprofit in England. She says, “I’m excited to be working with immigrant communities because I think that it's important to uphold the American tradition of welcoming people into our country.”

Congratulations, Michelle, on your new position! And welcome, Allison and Maddy!

Dine And Donate


Looking for ways to support justice? We have two exciting upcoming opportunities to support KEJC’s work! First, you can enjoy a delicious bowl of ramen from Dan Wu’s Atomic Ramen at the Summit. On Thursday, May 17th Atomic Ramen will be donating 10% of sales and all tips to KEJC from 11am to 9pm. Don’t worry, worker rights’ allies, Atomic Ramen will be covering staffs’ tips for the day. Come enjoy a bowl of ramen with KEJC staff and board members and take a photo with our capes and masks to celebrate being a superhero of justice!
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Superheroes of Justice


We hope you’ll also join us online and in-person on May 22nd for Kentucky Gives Day. This day encourages people from all over the Commonwealth to support the amazing nonprofits working in Kentucky by raising as much money as possible in 24 hours. There will be special prizes for the organizations that raise the most money between 10-11am, 4-5pm and 9-10pm. You can donate to KEJC online here.

To celebrate Kentucky Gives Day, we’ll be hosting an open house at the Maxwell Street Legal Clinic from 4-7pm. Come get a tour of our office and visit with our amazing staff. You can learn about the important work MSLC is doing for immigrants in Kentucky and see our map with the many countries our clients hail from. There will be light refreshments and great company!

Your support helps our staff fight for justice every day. We’re working to enroll families in health coverage and challenging Kentucky's complicated new Medicaid plan to protect consumer. We’re teaching workers about their rights and helping them get back stolen wages. Our staff at Maxwell Street helps hundreds of immigrants every year apply for DACA, citizenship and other forms of immigration relief. We couldn’t do it without you!



VISTA and VITA

A tax refund is an opportunity to catch up on bills and start saving for the future. Many tax payers turn to free online tools to get their
Corinna VITA.jpgmaximum refund. But limited internet access and discomfort with computers put those resources out of reach for many.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites across the country offer free, in-person tax filing assistance to low and moderate-income families and individuals. Tax payers in Lexington can chose from many VITA tax sites, including one at the Parkside
Development. The site is co-managed by KEJC and the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

In-person help allows people to ask IRS-certified volunteers questions about their returns. Tax payers can then use that knowledge to make informed decisions that maximize next year’s refund. As one of the few VITA sites with Spanish-speaking volunteers, the Parkside site is an invaluable resource for immigrant tax payers.

KEJC’s AmeriCorps VISTA will be at the Parkside tax site every Monday from 9-4 through April 16th. Interested tax payers are encouraged to make an appointment by texting (859) 320-7759.



Kentuckians Sue Trump

The National Health Law Program today issued this press release. Kentucky Equal Justice Center and Southern Poverty Law Center are co-counsel in the lawsuit.

KY sues Trump.pngWashington - Fifteen Kentuckians enrolled in Medicaid today filed a class action lawsuit against the Trump administration challenging its approval of sweeping changes to Medicaid law that will endanger the health care of tens of thousands of low-income individuals and families in the state. The plaintiffs are represented by the National Health Law Program (NHeLP), Kentucky Equal Justice Center (KEJC), and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Jenner & Block is counsel to NHeLP in this case.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the lawsuit charges that Kentucky's recently approved Medicaid waivers violate the Secretary of HHS's authority under the Social Security Act, because they are not an experimental project that is consistent with the objectives of the Medicaid Act. It is the first lawsuit brought to challenge a Trump administration Medicaid waiver approval.

"Through imposition of premiums and cost sharing, 'lockouts,' benefits cuts, and a work requirement, the waiver will radically reshape Medicaid in a manner that, by the State's own admission, will result in substantial reductions in coverage," the lawsuit states.

NHeLP Legal Director Jane Perkins said the Secretary far exceeded his authority in granting Kentucky's waiver.

"These waiver approvals raise a host of legal issues -- not just the work requirements and premiums but eliminating health care services, such as transportation to health care facilities or providers. This amounts to a project demonstrating how to destroy a strong health care program," Perkins said. "Allowing the State to ignore fundamental Medicaid protections will result in large numbers of low-income individuals and families losing health care coverage. We are calling on the federal court to step in and stop the Trump administration from re-writing the Medicaid Act and stripping Kentuckians of vital health care."

KEJC Senior Attorney Anne Marie Regan said, "The Cabinet's own estimate is that around 95,000 Kentuckians will lose Medicaid coverage. The purpose of Medicaid is to provide medical insurance to people who cannot afford it, not to create barriers to coverage. Demonstration waivers are supposed to make access to health care easier. This approval does the opposite. It is not only in violation of Medicaid law but is immoral."

After HHS announced approval of Kentucky's waiver, the state's Republican Governor Matt Bevin promptly signed an executive order in an attempt to intimidate those at risk from seeking relief in the courts. Bevin's executive order calls for the end of the state's Medicaid expansion if his approved waiver is found to be illegal.

SPLC Deputy Legal Director Samuel Brooke said, "The governor's threat - to punish the 400,000 residents who have received Medicaid under the expansion if a court rules against the Kentucky HEALTH project - is shameless. We will not be intimidated. We will defend the rights of individuals to enroll in Kentucky's Medicaid program."

The lawsuit's plaintiffs represent Kentuckians from all walks of life who rely on Medicaid for their health care. They reside in all parts of the state and are active in various ways in their communities. They include a minister, who is also a mortician, a mechanic, a musician, a retired health care worker, a church administrator, a bank teller, students, caregivers, house cleaners, and housekeepers for a health care center and a university. The plaintiffs have a variety of health care concerns, from high blood pressure, diabetes, and mental health problems to poor vision and dental problems.
Under the approved waiver, they are all in danger of losing Medicaid coverage.

For all of the plaintiffs' stories, see the complaint here. A summary of the lawsuit can be found here.

Please contact the NHeLP Communications Department at leaming@healthlaw.org or 301-233-0867 to speak with with Perkins, Regan, or Brooke.


Kentuckians do not support proposed changes to Medicaid

Two out of three registered voters in Kentucky say Medicaid should be left as is instead of scaled back to cover fewer people. A similar number oppose six-month lockout periods for Medicaid participants who fail to report income changes within ten days.

In 2016, the Bevin administration filed an 1115 Medicaid waiver proposal that would reduce the number of people enrolled and introduce lockout penalties. A new Mason-Dixon poll shows that both components are unpopular across party lines, gender, age groups and region. Opposition is strongest in Eastern Kentucky and among voters under 35. Read the full report here.

KEJC director Rich Seckel says, “People understand the difference between bureaucracy and opportunity. The results suggest people saw the plan as creating barriers to health care.”

This poll isn’t the first sign the proposed changes to Medicaid are unpopular. Over 1,800 commenters weighed in on the plan in 2016 and almost 1,200 on proposed changes in 2017. The vast majority of them expressed concern over the impact on access to health care for low-income Kentuckians. The new poll shows that the concerns expressed in those comments are shared widely across the state.

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Reclama Tus Derechos: KEJC on the radio

Do you need health coverage? Do you have insurance but are you unsure how to use it? Listen to KEJC’s radio show, Reclama Tus Derechos, and learn more about managing your family’s health care costs. Reclama Tus Derechos is KEJC’s Spanish radio show on El Pulso Latino, 95.7 FM. The show airs Fridays at 9 am and Mondays at 4 pm. Previous episodes are available online.
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Miranda Brown & McKenzie Cantrell


Since October 2017, Outreach Coordinator Miranda Brown and Employment Attorney McKenzie Cantrell have been bringing important workers’ rights information to the radio. Topics covered include discrimination, unions and wage and hour laws. Now, the show is expanding to look at health care. Miranda will be joined by AmeriCorps VISTA Corinna Svarlien to discuss Medicaid, Qualified Health Plans and options for the uninsured. Topics will include choosing the right doctor, understanding insurance costs and when to go the ER. The first episode in the health care series will air January 12, 2018. The episode will cover how to begin the new year with a new plan and how to file health care tax forms.

Don’t forget to tune in every Friday morning at 9:00! If you miss a show, you can catch it again Monday at 4 pm. Listen to 95.7 FM or stream the show online at LexingtonCommunityRadio.org. Find the podcast on SoundCloud.


A strong open enrollment period despite challenges

2017 was a challenging year for families trying to get health coverage.
Health numbers 2017.jpgUncertainty in Congress left consumers confused and a shorter open enrollment period meant less time to find coverage. Outreach Coordinator Miranda Brown was there to help. Miranda is an application assister, which means she can help people navigate getting covered. She’s filed hundreds of applications and knows the secrets to making the process go as smoothly as possible. She can find subsidies, file paperwork and troubleshoot any problems. It always helps to have a knowledgeable ally on your side.

Miranda uses community partnerships to reach vulnerable populations.
At the New Life Day Center, she meets with Kentuckians facing
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Outreach Coordinator Miranda Brown tabling

homelessness and housing insecurity. She also works with sexually
exploited women through Natalie’s Sisters. She holds office hours at the Village Branch Library, which serves a large Latino population.

In 2017 Miranda helped 164 Kentuckians get health coverage. That includes 43 Kentuckians experiencing homelessness, 30 sexually exploited women, 39 immigrant individuals and families and 17 inmates approaching reentry into their communities.

Despite the new barriers, enrollment in Kentucky was up compared to 2017! Remember, If you qualify for a special enrollment period or are
eligible for Medicaid, you may be able to apply for health coverage now.
Call Miranda Brown for more information: (800) 699-0805


KEJC's Cassie Chambers in the Herald Leader

Cassie joined KEJC as a Skadden Fellow in December, 2017. A recent Harvard Law graduate, she spent the last year as an
attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Louisville. Cassie’s work in the Louisville area showed her the many barriers low-income
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Cassie Chambers
Kentuckians face in accessing the court system. Those experiences are now informing Cassie’s new project with KEJC, the access to justice initiative.

Cassie presented some of the problems she plans on tackling in a recent op-ed for the Lexington Herald Leader. In the piece, Cassie describes a client she represented in a divorce case involving domestic violence. The woman was able to get free representation from Legal Aid, but was forced to pay the legal fees of her husband because he was incarcerated. The fact that he was in jail for assaulting her wasn’t enough to stop the court from putting the financial burden on her. Cassie writes, “Incarcerated people should have fair and adequate representation, even in civil matters. The issue is about who should bear the cost of this system.”

Read the full op-ed at the Herald Leader and keep an eye on this page for updates on the access to justice initiative.

DACA opened doors to work and education

Noemi’s parents came to Lexington 20 years ago, hoping to give their daughter the best opportunities possible. Noemi has taken full advantage of those opportunities, as a social activist, medical assistant and mother. In high school, Noemi’s immigration status stopped her from getting a drivers’ license or a part-time job and from applying to college. Luckily, a talk by Erin Howard from Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) inspired Noemi to pursue her goals.
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Noemi and her son at Festival Latino

Noemi qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allowed her to work and study and gave her some security. With new doors open to her, Noemi started college at BCTC while also working a full-time job. It wasn’t easy, and Noemi had to take a short break from school. She went back to finish her degree after becoming pregnant with her son and is now a pediatric medical assistant.

Noemi doesn’t only work hard to improve life for her own family. She also gives back as a social activist. When Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of the DACA program, people needed a space to express their anger, sadness and hopes for the future. Together with other community leaders, Noemi organized a rally in Lexington in support of DACA. There, she bravely shared her story and encouraged others to do the same.

Noemi will keep fighting for permanent solutions for undocumented immigrants. Meanwhile, she helps people find the information they need. Maxwell Street Legal Clinic has been a valuable resource for Noemi. She says, “I know I can always count on them when I need answers for the undocumented community.” Maxwell Street helped Noemi and many young people renew their DACA status this fall.

Maxwell Street Legal Clinic: Our DACA impact

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Since the beginning of the DACA program Maxwell Street Legal Clinic has helped 226 young people get and keep their DACA status. MSLC has filed 154 initial and 253 renewal applications, for a total of 407 applications. The application is expensive and the rules are clear. MSLC’s careful eligibility review has given us a 100% approval rate for submitted applications.

On September 5, 2017 Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the DACA program was ending. No more initial applications would be considered. Current recipients whose DACA status was set expire between September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018 had one month to apply for a renewal. MSLC was able to send out 19 renewal applications before the October 5, 2017 deadline.

Immigration emergencies: helping families prepare

Immigration policies and enforcement priorities are changing. Families are hungry for reliable news and sober guidance based in fact and law. Our immigration law program at Maxwell Street Legal Clinic is a trusted source of information. Its capacity to separate myth from fact and rumor from policy make it a vital resource, especially for mixed status families at risk of separation.
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DOJ Accredited Rep Nathalie Dietrich and Attorney Leah Engle

Best advice

The best advice: be prepared. To help, founding volunteer Marilyn Daniel, staff and volunteers have created family checklists for emergency preparedness and forms for temporary Power of Attorney to ensure that children are cared for by relatives or friends of their choice in the event of separation.

Know Your Rights

Our "Know your Rights" presentations leave participants better informed about immigrants’ rights on the job, at home and on the street. Audiences are diverse. Staff and volunteers have spoken to church members, high school students, inmates and more. Over the past year, more than 900 people attended a Maxwell Street “Know Your Rights” presentation.

Toolkit

We’ve also created a toolkit to help families prepare for emergencies. Families can fill in phone numbers and other information they might need if someone is detained. The toolkit includes a checklist of important documents and items that should be kept in a safe place, like car keys. Find it in English and Spanish on the Maxwell Street page, along with a video briefing.

Power of Attorney

One important document: Power of Attorney (POA) to care for children. Kentucky law allows parents to designate a trusted adult to care for their children, one year at a time. Maxwell Street holds workshops to help families fill out the form, notarize it and get background checks done.
So far, we’ve held four POA workshops—at Maxwell Street, Global Lex, Village Branch Library and Catholic Charities. Many thanks to donors, attorney volunteers and the Kentucky Bar Foundation for supporting the effort.

Welcome, Leah Engle, AttorneyLeah_Engle (002).jpg

KEJC welcomes attorney Leah Engle as our new program director at Maxwell Street Legal Clinic. Leah comes to us from Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, where she served as an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow with Veterans Legal Corps.
Earlier, Leah helped survivors of human tracking and domestic violence through the Legal Aid Society of Metro Family Services in Chicago and the Human Trafficking Clinic in Ann Arbor, MI.

Leah received her law degree from University of Michigan in May 2014. She served in the Peace Corps from August 2008 to October 2010 as a teacher of English as a foreign language in Turkestan, Kazakhstan. Leah's first day was March 16. Welcome, Leah! Congratulations also to Leah's predecessor, Guion Johnstone. Guion is now director of the Kentucky Bar Foundation.

Nonprofit Network recognizes KEJC director

2016 Award.jpgKentucky Nonprofit Network recognized Kentucky Equal Justice Centerdirector Richard Seckel (second from right) with its 2016 award
for Distinguished Nonprofit Leadership Award at the Network's annual
luncheon November 3, 2016.

"This award recognizes achievement in the areas of strategic leadership, community building, ethical integrity, innovation, and commitment to strengthening the nonprofit sector," state KNN Director Danielle Clore.

"Mr. Seckel has led the center from its early mission of consolidating services among legal aid programs in Kentucky to its current mission to serve as center for impact advocacy for low-income people."

View Board Chair Chris Frost's Award Introduction
View Rich Seckel's Acceptance Speech

Maxwell Street Legal Clinic helps immigrant youth

NOTHER ONE (3).jpgIt's a mini-version of the proposed Dream Act, but more limited. It does not create a new legal immigration status or a path to citizenship. But it does something important: it lets immigrant youth with good school and military records know they won’t be deported in the next two years—and provides authorization to work.

It's called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). We began helping prepare DACA applications when the program began in June 2012. Since then, we've helped more than 165 young people apply. 72 have been approved—with a success rate of 100% on decisions so far.






Enrolling kids

Our Health Outreach team, Cara Stewart and Miranda Brown, goes to schools, universities, churches, and other community hot-spots to make sure people know about Healthcare.gov Open Enrollment for 2018 coverage.

Miranda has a special focus: enrolling immigrants in coverage. She reaches out to low-income, Spanish-speaking and immigrant Kentuckians. This work is part of a statewide initiative by Kentucky legal services programs. They're all working together to keep Kentuckians covered by health insurance that works for them.

For more information, see the video on this page. For help with enrollment, call Miranda at our toll free outreach number: 1-800-699-0805.