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State Supreme Court asked to intervene in suit against DES

The Department of Economic Security may be forced to roll back millions of dollars in budget cuts to health care programs serving the state’s disabled population if the Arizona Supreme Court agrees to hear a lawsuit filed against the department earlier this year.

The suit, which was filed Feb. 27 by the Arizona Association of Providers for Persons with Disabilities, claims officials at DES endangered the health of more than 4,000 Arizonans with disabilities and violated federal laws mandating state-run health care when they suspended several programs designed to assist the disabled.

“We know that thousands of adults and children with disabilities are going to be harmed by these cuts in services and rates,” Jennifer Nye, staff attorney with the Arizona Center for Disability Law in a February noted in a statement to the media. “We feel it is also very short-sighted of the state to balance its budget on the back of its most vulnerable population.”

The suit also seeks a reversal of the decision to reduce the reimbursement rate by 10 percent for hospitals and health care clinics that offer care to low-income patients with disabilities.

Cuts to DES programs were handed down in February after a legislative budget fix left the department short $43 million for fiscal 2009. A portion of the cuts – approximately $6 million – were dispersed to the department’s Division of Developmental Disabilities.

An initial review of the case by the Maricopa County Superior Court upheld the claims by patients and health care providers that the agency’s cuts to the disability division illegally denied care to the disabled. In the court’s decision, Judge Joseph Heilman stated that the budget reductions would lead to “significant interruptions in essential services that are necessary for the safety and welfare of a very vulnerable population.”

Heilman’s decision to bar officials from carrying out the intended cuts, though, was later reversed by the Arizona Court of Appeals. According to the three-member court, Heilman’s claims that service would suffer as a result of the agency’s cuts were not supported by the evidence.

The patients and health care providers behind the case immediately filed a request that the state Supreme Court intervene in the case. State officials have asked the court to decline review, stating that the case “presents no novel legal issues.”

The Arizona Supreme Court has not announced whether the justices intend to hear the case.

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