Raleigh, NC: The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Resources issued an Administrative Letter that will pave the way for more individuals with disabilities to return to work. The letter partially rectifies DHHS’s failure to comply with a state law requiring access to Medicaid for workers with disabilities.

Disability Rights NC filed suit in June 2013 alleging DHHS’s suspension of and refusal to implement a 2005 law violates the North Carolina Constitution. The law, Health Coverage for Workers with Disabilities, allows people with disabilities to work and maintain Medicaid coverage. Beginning in 2009, DHHS suspended the law and failed to make Medicaid available to workers with disabilities whose income exceeds 150% of federal poverty.

“We’re gratified that more individuals with disabilities can work without losing critical health care coverage,” said Disability Rights NC Executive Director Vicki Smith. “There is still more to do. We intend to ensure that all those who are eligible to participate in the program are allowed to do so.”

Some individuals with disabilities face the difficult choice of returning to work or maintaining critical health care coverage available to them through Medicaid. Recognizing this barrier, Congress authorized the states to enroll workers with disabilities in Medicaid when their earnings would otherwise make them ineligible. The General Assembly adopted Health Coverage for Workers with Disabilities in response. In 2008, after DHHS had failed to implement the program due to struggles with the agency’s information technology system, the General Assembly again directed DHHS to implement the law regardless of the status of its computer systems. DHHS only partially complied, and suspended the program with regard to hundreds of eligible individuals.

Disability Rights NC filed suit on behalf of itself, as North Carolina’s protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities, and on behalf of three individuals harmed by DHHS’s failure to implement that law. The suit will continue until the issue of full implementation is resolved for those who continue to be excluded from coverage in violation of state law.