VOL. 125 | NO. 70 | Monday, April 12, 2010
FOCUS Law & The Courts
Hope Springs Eternal
By Rebekah Hearn
Andon Byrd, 5, plays computer games with his father, Brandon Byrd, in his Munford home. Byrd, a quadriplegic, is fighting the loss of his TennCare home health care and the resulting loss of the home which was built for him by community members following his accident. Photo: Lance Murphey
Brandon Byrd, a 30-year-old Atoka resident, has been granted a new hearing on his TennCare eligibility, allowing him and his Memphis attorney more time to address the nuances of his case.
Byrd, whose story was first told in the Oct 31 issue of The Memphis News, sister publication of The Daily News, has been fighting to keep his private-duty nursing care through TennCare for more than a year now.
And he’s not the only one still fighting for coverage.
The Tennessee Justice Center, a nonprofit group, today will hold its second continuing legal education seminar in Memphis for attorneys who agree to handle one pro bono TennCare appeal, as the group continues to receive calls from distressed Tennesseans.
About 20 people have registered for the CLE so far. It’s from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law Downtown.
A trampoline accident in 2004 left Byrd a quadriplegic. He also has a tracheostomy to help him breathe, and requires 24-hour care by a medical professional.
As the father of two young boys, he wants to stay home and receive his care.
However, severe budget cutbacks have forced the state to re-evaluate the status of many TennCare enrollees, and private-duty nursing has been especially hard-hit.
It is cheaper for people with health issues like Byrd’s to be cared for in a nursing home, but on the other hand, medical care is not always as adequate and depression, anger and suicidal behavior can result from isolation.
This is the scenario Byrd’s attorney, Linda Casals, is working to prevent.
Byrd retained Casals through Memphis Area Legal Services Inc. when he received re-evaluation papers from the state in 2009 to determine if he was still eligible to receive care under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) category to which he previously belonged.
That category since has been closed to new members, and according to the Tennessee Justice Center, approximately 140,000 SSI patients have lost their coverage.
Casals has appeared in court several times to argue Byrd’s case.
“I don’t know how many people realize it, but on the notice of hearings, they have to tell you exactly every TennCare rule that (the state is) going to rely upon in putting on its case,” Casals said.
She said she began to object during Byrd’s most recent hearing “when … the state’s attorney started throwing out this certain rule.” Casals said the state was arguing whether certain medical bills applied to Byrd’s case. ?“(The judge) noted my objection, and sure enough … she basically ruled to just dismiss the whole hearing and grant him a new hearing. She directed the state to reissue the notice of hearing,” Casals said.
?She said she hasn’t yet received a new notice. This most recent hearing was about two weeks ago.
“Even though this (SSI) category is closed, he still has the right to go in and say, ‘I’m eligible now for this new category,’” Casals said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to go to the state’s attorney and be able to settle and find him eligible.”
For now, it’s a win for Byrd, as he keeps his medical care through the state unless a judge decides otherwise.
The trend is everywhere
Meanwhile, Tennessee attorneys still are hard at work helping TennCare patients appeal the state’s decision to reduce or cut their services.
Michele Johnson, the managing attorney for the TJC, said the group is desperately trying to find lawyers to take these cases in Memphis.
“So many really, really amazing people like Brandon are facing the state’s lawyers and really complicated, arcane law, and so our hope is we can hook them up with lawyers who went to law school to make a difference and who wouldn’t be able to take these cases without a little bit of training,” Johnson said.
The TJC has held free CLEs in Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville to teach
attorneys the basics of handling TennCare appeals.
“We’ve done it once in Memphis and this is our second trip in Memphis, and the hope is we can keep having these all over the state,” Johnson said. “The trick is getting a critical mass of people who will come to the training.”
Lawyers who attend today’s CLE must agree to handle one pro bono TennCare appeal.
Johnson said the TJC also does one-on-one training with attorneys who want to take a case.
“But it’s just a lot easier … for people to come to the training, because then we can immerse them in all of the complicated issues and be a technical advisory resource once they get into taking the case,” she added.
For information on registering for Monday’s CLE, contact Emily Einstein at the TJC at 615-255-0331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.