Montana asks judge to lift block on Medicaid rate cut

HELENA (AP) — Montana health department officials on Wednesday asked a judge to lift his order that is preventing them from imposing lower Medicaid reimbursement rates on nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

District Judge James Reynolds issued a temporary order on June 13 blocking the department’s cut to the reimbursement payments it makes to health providers that care for Medicaid recipients. The judge’s order came after the Montana Health Care Association and nursing facility owners sued over claims that the cut was improperly approved in January.

The health department lowered the reimbursement payments to Medicaid providers to $181.57 per patient, per day as part of statewide spending cuts to fill a shortfall in the Montana budget. Reynolds temporarily ordered that rate back up to $187.17 and set a July 11 hearing.

Officials with the health care association say even the higher Medicaid reimbursement rate doesn’t cover costs, and that the lower rate has forced nursing homes to cut staff, hours and programs.

Andres Haladay, an attorney representing the Department of Public Health and Human Services, said in his motion that the health providers are not experiencing an irreparable harm that requires the temporary order. “Plaintiffs are attempting to use injunctive relief to obtain money,” Haladay wrote.

If they win the lawsuit, they can be awarded that money when the case is closed, he wrote.

Haladay argued that Reynolds’ order was improperly issued and should have expired after 10 days, which was Saturday, because the judge did not give notice to the department. Even if Reynolds rules that it didn’t expire on Saturday, the order says it is effective only until the end of the 2018 financial year, which is this upcoming Saturday, Haladay added.

Reynolds did not make an immediate ruling.

Health department spokesman Jon Ebelt said the department intends to pay the higher reimbursement rate until Saturday, and estimated the cost of complying with the order to between $200,000 and $300,000.