Woman sues after state drops her from Basic Health coverage

  • By Sharon Salyer Herald Writer
  • Saturday, April 16, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

A Snohomish County woman who battled breast cancer has filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s decision to drop nearly 17,000 people from Basic Health, its subsidized health care plan.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle by

Rattiya Unthaksinkun, a legal immigrant.

The lawsuit seeks class action status. It asks the court to take action for an unspecified number of people who, it asserts, also were removed from the plan because of questions over their immigration status.

The lawsuit alleges the state did not have enough information to determine the immigration status of those who received a notice that they were about to be dropped from the plan March 1.

The goal of the lawsuit is to get immediate reinstatement of health care benefits for those who no longer have health insurance while the legal issues are sorted out, said Molly Firth, who heads the statewide advocacy group, Friends of Basic Health.

A hearing is scheduled for April 29.

Neither Unthaksinkun nor her attorney wished to comment on the case, Firth said.

Unthaksinkun was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of last year and her treatment included two surgeries, a lumpectomy and mastectomy, Firth said.

She was treated at the University of Washington and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

The treatments caused her to lose arm strength, the lawsuit says, and her physician recommended a follow-up appointment in March. Unthaksinkun cancelled the appointment after being notified that she no longer could participate in the state’s health care plan.

Unthaksinkun is a legal resident of the United States. Her husband is a citizen, which makes her eligible to become a citizen. But the couple do not have the funds to do so, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that Unthaksinkun and many others who lost their health care benefits are lawful immigrants, who should not have been removed from the state’s health care plan.

Basic Health, established in 1987, provides subsidized health insurance to state residents who meet a particular income level and other requirements.

The decision to drop thousands of people from the health program occurred as the state Legislature was wrestling with massive budget shortfalls. Lawmakers took action in February to reduce the costs of this and many other programs.

“The state is clearly having an historic fiscal crisis,” said Jim Stevenson, a spokesman for the state Department of Social and Health Services. “There were some very tough decisions that had to be made.”

Some $85 million in federal money helped keep the program from being eliminated all together, he said. But that meant a series of changes in eligibility requirements had to be made.

Among the changes: People had to be poorer to qualify; those under age 19 and over age 65 were dropped from Basic Health; and for the first time, those enrolled in the program had to prove they were legal residents.

The federal money allowed approximately 40,000 people to remain on the Basic Health program, he said.

On Feb. 18 the state sent noticed to more than 17,000 people that their Basic Health benefits were being terminated on March 1.

Although Unthaksinkun is a legal resident, she was a month shy of the minimum five- year residency requirement that is now mandated by the state to qualify for the program, Firth said.

Some of those who lost their health care benefits had been on the plan a long time paying monthly premiums, Firth said. “It doesn’t seem fair that it could be yanked out from under them with less than 10 days’ notice,” Firth said.

Sharon Salyer: 25-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com

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