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Orange County Residents Sue County and State Agencies for Discrimination in Medical Services Against Persons with HIV

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Despite Advances In Education, Awareness, And Legal Protections Such As The ADA Passed 26 Years Ago, People Living With HIV Continue To Face Stigma And Discrimination — Including Health Care.

Johnny T. and Lihn N., two individuals with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), have recently filed a lawsuit against their doctor, Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) and CalOptima, Orange County's organized health system for low income families, seniors, and persons with disabilities. The lawsuit charges the entities with discrimination and failures to enforce state and federal anti-discrimination laws, after a CalOptima network provider turned them away from his practice because of their HIV status.

Despite advances in education, awareness, and legal protections, people living with HIV continue to face stigma and discrimination in critical areas such as health care. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits medical providers from discriminating against potential or actual patients based on their disabilities. Johnny T. and Linh N. experienced discrimination when they were informed by their long-time CalOptima Medi-Cal physician that he would no longer treat them, citing a CalOptima policy as apparent justification. According to the provider, CalOptima informed him that he could not treat patients with HIV unless he had a separate waiting area for them.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as well as state law, requires state government agencies and private entities that receive federal funds to adopt public local grievance procedures for providing prompt and equitable resolution of disability and other discrimination complaints. But when Johnny T. and Linh N. filed a grievance with CalOptima, the Medi-Cal plan determined that they were not discriminated against despite acknowledging the provider's continued refusal to see or treat any persons with HIV. When Johnny T. and Linh N. brought their complaint before the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), the Administrative Law Judge dismissed the discrimination portion of their case, citing that CDSS did not have jurisdiction to address this issue. DHCS agreed and adopted this decision.

Given the vacuum of necessary discrimination grievance procedures, and the apparent widespread lack of understanding among DHCS, Medi-Cal plans, and healthcare providers on disability discrimination and its redress, Johnny T. and Linh H. were left with few options aside from filing this case.

"As it stands now, there is virtually no remedy available to Medi-Cal beneficiaries to pursue discrimination complaints with the county health plan or the state. As we've seen in Johnny and Linh's case, providers can freely and openly discriminate against persons with disabilities without any consequences from their oversight agencies. " said Marina Pantchenko, an attorney with the firm Metz & Harrison representing the plaintiffs.

"CalOptima and DHCS's systemic failure to provide a proper forum for adjudicating disability discrimination complaints as required by its contract with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, decades-old federal antidiscrimination laws, and its own state laws is deeply troubling," said Silvia Yee, Senior Staff Attorney with Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), also representing the plaintiffs. "People with disabilities cannot trust a state agency or Medi-Cal plans that will not protect them from stereotypes, prejudice and bad behavior directed at them on the basis of disability."

The complaint was filed in California Superior Court of Orange County. A copy of the complaint, which was filed on November 21, 2016, is available on the DREDF website.

The Plaintiffs are represented by Metz & Harrison and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) and were referred by the AIDS Legal Assistance Project at Public Law Center.

 

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