Raleigh, NC: A judge has ordered the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to comply with a state law requiring access to Medicaid for workers with disabilities.

Disability Rights NC filed suit in June 2013 because DHHS had failed to make Medicaid available to many workers with disabilities as required by the Health Coverage for Workers with Disabilities Act. A preliminary injunction, issued by Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour, now requires DHHS to ensure that the program is available to all who qualify, including the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit.

“We are grateful that the Court provided immediate relief not only to the individual plaintiffs, but to the constituents served by Disability Rights NC,” said Vicki Smith, Executive Director of Disability Rights NC. “We set out to ensure that all those who are eligible to participate in the program are allowed to do so, and we are well on our way to fulfilling that promise.”

Some individuals with disabilities face the difficult choice of returning to work or maintaining critical Medicaid coverage because of Medicaid’s strict income limits. Recognizing this barrier, Congress authorized the states to give workers with disabilities access to Medicaid even if their earnings would otherwise make them ineligible. The General Assembly adopted the Health Coverage for Workers with Disabilities Act in response in 2006, but DHHS failed to fully implement the program. It is anticipated that up to 600 individuals may gain access to the program as a result of the injunction.

“The availability of this program sends a signal to North Carolinians with disabilities that they need not fear losing Medicaid as they consider the possibility of returning to the workforce or growing in their jobs,” Smith said. An individual with a disability is eligible if he or she is between the ages of 16 and 64, is working, and has non-wage income of less than $1437 per month. There is no cap on earned wages. Participants may have to pay an enrollment fee of $50 and a sliding scale premium, depending on income.

Shelly Stephens, a plaintiff in the case, said: “Having access to this program will make it possible for me to maintain my independence and will help so many others who want to work but need to know that their medical needs will be met.” Stephens, a disability advocate who has quadriplegia, had spent nearly all of her income on personal care services and was struggling to maintain her independence prior to the ruling.

Read Judge Baddour’s Order for Preliminary Injunction.