Children, pregnant women, people with serious health conditions and disabilities are left to suffer without medication and health care after County unlawfully stops benefits

LOS ANGELES, CA – When Thaddeus Moncrief, who has depended on Medi-Cal since a spinal cord injury left him paralyzed in 1989, was told he had lost his coverage, he assumed there had been a mistake. He called to see why his care had been cut, and was told the county hadn’t received his renewal forms. He sent them again, and again they seemed to disappear. In the following weeks, he called the county countless times—often waiting on hold for two or three hours—as his medication, colostomy bags, and catheters ran out. Then his wheelchair broke down, and he couldn’t get it fixed.

“I was basically confined to the house,” he said. “For me, nothing like this is ever supposed to happen.”

Nothing like this was supposed to happen to Hilda Rodriguez, who depends on Medi-Cal to cover the dialysis that’s keeping her alive, and who is on a waitlist for a kidney transplant because of end-stage renal failure. Nor was it supposed to happen to Carol Northern, who has a heart condition and depends on oxygen and nitric oxide to breathe. But across Los Angeles County, people who rely on Medi-Cal are being terminated from critically needed care because county officials have failed to process their renewal forms.

Attorneys at Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, which runs a health consumer center to help people resolve issues with coverage and care, have assisted more than 100 people who were wrongfully terminated during the renewal process. They have also heard from hospitals, clinics, health plans and senior services providers who report serious interruptions in care.

“We know that we’re seeing the tip of the iceberg,” said Neighborhood Legal Services attorney David Kane. “The county has admitted to us that there were thousands of cases in the backlog.”

Moncrief, Rodriguez and Northern are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Wednesday seeking to halt the unlawful terminations. The suit—filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and Western Center on Law & Poverty—accuses the county’s Department of Public Social Services of failing to process renewal applications and then wrongfully terminating Medi-Cal—leaving people without the health care they need and lawfully deserve—in clear violation of state law.

Some of those harmed by the county’s violations rely on both Medi-Cal and Medicare to cover their complex conditions. When they lose their Medi-Cal benefits, the state stops paying their Medicare premiums, which can then cut their monthly Social Security benefits by several hundred dollars.

That’s what happened to Northern. After the county unlawfully terminated her benefits, her Social Security payments were cut as well. Northern, a retired insurance agent, was unable to penetrate the Kafkaesque system that was supposed to help her, and almost lost her home in a mobile home park when she was suddenly unable to pay the rent.

Read the Los Angeles Times coverage of NLSLA’s efforts to halt the unlawful terminations