Lambda Legal has filed a federal class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Louisiana against BlueCross BlueShield of Louisiana, which will no longer accept the federally-funded premium subsidies that enable low-income Louisianans living with HIV to purchase health insurance.
Two other insurers were included as defendants — Louisiana Health Cooperative and Vantage Health Plan.
In a request for an emergency injunction, Lambda is asking the court to force the insurers to accept premium payments from the customers and to provide health insurance until the lawsuit is heard.
Said Scott Schoettes, HIV project director for Lambda, "The situation is urgent. Refusing federal funds that provide life-saving care to people living with HIV could potentially affect thousands of low-income Louisiana residents."
He added, This discriminatory policy keeps low-income people living with HIV off of BlueCross BlueShield’s insurance rolls, perpetuating the deliberate insurance industry practice of denying coverage to those living with HIV that the Affordable Care Act was designed to reverse. Continuous coverage is critical for people living with HIV. The health care crisis these insurers have created must be stopped."
Lambda's clients in the lawsuit include John East, a part-time worker in the hospitality industry, and other low-income Louisianans living with HIV.
East is a 59-year-old New Orleans man insured by BCBS for nearly 30 years. he learned in mid-January that BCBS would no longer accept the federal Ryan White subsidies for which he qualifies.
Without those subsidies, East cannot afford his medical care and HIV medications.
East said, "I couldn’t believe it when I was told BCBS would no longer accept my Ryan White insurance subsidies. What am I supposed to do now? I’ve been with BCBS for 29 years. I paid my premiums that whole time, and now they are finding a way to dump me just because I’m living with HIV. I need these medications to stay healthy, so that I can continue to work and contribute to my community."
Lambda Legal filed the suit after already filing complaints about the situation in Louisiana with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights. The national legal defense group is working with the New Orleans AIDS Task Force on the issue.
The Louisiana Ryan White Health Insurance Program is federally-funded and functions as the payer of last resort in the state, helping low-income individuals living with HIV purchase health insurance they could not otherwise afford, according to Lambda.