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Your 2011-12 Guide to Key U.S. Supreme Court Cases

Health reform, Medicaid, consumer rights and more

Medicaid reimbursement

The court has scheduled oral arguments on opening day in a consolidated appeal of several cases involving Medicaid reimbursement. The question is whether health care providers and Medicaid beneficiaries have the right to sue a state over cuts in the reimbursement rates for health care providers.

The issue may sound technical, but Douglas v. Independent Living Center has major implications for poor people who receive health care through Medicaid and for states facing budget crises. Thirty states have joined California in arguing that the providers and patients should not have the right to sue. The states claim it would be a "financial catastrophe" to be forced to comply with federal law blocking the reimbursement cuts.

In 2008, the California legislature approved a 10 percent cut in reimbursements for dentists, health clinics, pharmacists and other providers. Several provider groups sued, saying the lower rates would hurt patients. Some pharmacies, for example, refused to dispense drugs below cost. When federal courts blocked the cuts from taking effect, California appealed to the Supreme Court.

"The impact is very significant. States could pass laws that ignore federal requirements in Medicaid," said Rochelle Bobroff, directing attorney of the National Senior Citizens Law Center's Federal Rights Project. "It's very, very disturbing."

A consumer's day in court

In CompuCredit v. Greenwood, the question is whether a business that provides consumers with a "you have a right to sue" notice under the Credit Repair Organizations Act actually has to let consumers go to court — or if arbitration is a good enough substitute.

CompuCredit Corp. marketed a credit card it said would help rebuild a customer's credit. Consumers supposedly could get the card free but first were charged $257 in fees, which was mentioned in small print.

Wanda Greenwood and other plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit in California alleging the company violated the credit repair law, which gives consumers a right to sue. The company tried to compel arbitration instead. Greenwood and others filed an appeal, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with them. CompuCredit appealed to the Supreme Court.

Consumers need their day in court, says Bobroff, whose law center joined AARP in filing a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of consumers.

"Arbitration doesn't provide the same protection as a judge and jury," she said.

The risk to older people is great because without active income, seniors often have trouble restoring their credit. This can lead to foreclosure and other problems, she said.

Oral arguments are scheduled for Oct. 11.

Next: Drug safety tests. >>

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