Justia Public Benefits Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

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In this case, a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) recipient, Cindy Gonzalez, was found to have defrauded the federal government of $6,159 worth of SNAP benefits by representing that she lived alone and did not receive any income, when in fact she was not living alone and was receiving income. After discovering this wrongdoing, the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (“DHSS”) brought an administrative proceeding against Gonzalez to disqualify her from continued participation in SNAP and claw back the benefits she received through her misrepresentations. The hearing officer found that DHSS had established intentional program violations and disqualified Gonzalez from continued participation in SNAP for one year, and DHSS’s audit and recovery arm assessed an overpayment of $6,159, which the federal government has started to collect by offsetting the other federal benefits she receives against her SNAP obligations. About five months after the DHSS final decision, the State of Delaware brought a civil action against Gonzalez under Delaware common law and the Delaware False Claims and Reporting Act based on the same circumstances underlying the DHSS administrative proceeding. This time, however, the State sought between approximately $200,000 and $375,000 in restitution, damages, and penalties; attorneys’ fees and costs; and an order enjoining Gonzalez from participating in SNAP until she pays the judgment. Gonzalez in turn filed an answer asserting an affirmative defense that federal law preempted the State’s Delaware law claims, and the State moved for judgment on the pleadings. The Superior Court granted the State’s motion, holding that federal law did not preempt the State’s claims. Gonzalez brought an interlocutory appeal of that determination. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed, finding federal law prohibited the State from bringing consecutive administrative and civil actions against a SNAP recipient based on the same fraud. View "Gonzalez v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Ashlee Oldham and Robert Prunckun (collectively, “Recipients”) were the only two Delaware Medicaid recipients housed at Judge Rotenberg Center (“JRC”), a facility in Massachusetts and the only facility in the United States known to use electric shock therapy as part of their comprehensive behavioral treatment plans. These services were covered by Medicaid with the knowledge and approval of Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services (“DHSS”). in 2012, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) advised the Massachusetts state agency responsible for Medicaid administration that continued use of electric shock therapy would place that state’s waiver program in jeopardy of losing federal funding. Following CMS’s letter to Massachusetts, Delaware took measures to avoid placing its own Home and Community Based Services (“HCBS”) waiver program at risk. DHSS finally terminated JRC as a qualified provider after JRC refused to cease using electric shock therapy. Although the procedural history was complex, the gist of Appellants’ challenge on appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court was that they were denied due process because Delaware’s administrative hearing officer bifurcated proceedings to address what she concluded was a threshold issue, namely, whether electric shock therapy was a covered Medicaid service under the Medicaid HCBS Waiver program. Instead, Recipients contended they should have been allowed to introduce evidence that electric shock therapy was medically necessary, and that by removing shock services, DHSS threatened Recipients’ ability to remain in a community-based setting (a conclusion they desired to prove through evidence and expert testimony). The Supreme Court determined the hearing officer's determination that electric shock therapy was not a covered service under federal and state law was supported by substantial evidence and free from legal error, and affirmed the district court. View "Prunckun v. Delaware Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

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This issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether the collateral source rule should apply when Medicaid pays for an injured party’s medical expenses. The Delaware Supreme Court held that, when Medicaid has paid an injured party’s medical expenses, the collateral source rule cannot be used to increase an injured party’s recovery of past medical expenses beyond those actually paid by Medicaid. "As with Medicare, the difference is unnecessary to make the injured party whole because it is paid by no one." Appellant Jennifer Smith, was injured in two car collisions. Although employed when her injuries occurred, Smith qualified for Medicaid coverage. At first, her treating physician sought to recover his standard charges of $22,911 from the proceeds of any personal injury settlement. But later, the treating physician opted to forego his original billed amount, and instead billed Medicaid for his charges. Medicaid paid the treating physician $5,197.71, and asserted a lien in that amount on the proceeds of any recovery by settlement or lawsuit. When all was netted out, the Superior Court entered judgment against the defendants jointly and severally for $49,911. Relying on the applicable case law, the trial court determined that “Delaware case law is clear that the collateral source rule does not apply to Medicaid or Medicare write-offs.” In its decision here, the Delaware Supreme Court refused to extend operation of the collateral source rule and affirmed the superior court's judgment. Also affirmed was the Superior Court’s ruling that future medical expenses were not subject to Medicaid reimbursement limitations. "Unlike Medicare, Medicaid coverage is income dependent, and might not be available if a plaintiff improves her financial position to a living wage and secures other insurance. Because of the uncertainty of future coverage, Medicaid benefits cannot be used to limit a plaintiff’s future medical expenses." View "Smith v. Mahoney" on Justia Law

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Linda Thompson appealed from a Superior Court judgment reversing the determination of the Unemployment Appeals Board (UIAB) that good cause existed for Thompson's voluntary resignation and granting her unemployment benefits. Thompson contended that good cause existed for voluntarily terminating her employment, that she exhausted her administrative remedies, and that substantial evidence in the record supported the UIAB's decision. The court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court and held that substantial evidence did not support the UIAB's decision and the UIAB erred as a matter of law by concluding that Thompson was entitled to benefits pursuant to 19 Del. C. 3314(1).