The Montana Department of Health is looking to ax a board that hears public assistance appeals


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Montana health officials are asking state lawmakers to eliminate a board that hears appeals from people they believe have been wrongly denied public assistance benefits.

Since 2016 Public Assistance Board He said he hears fewer than 20 cases a year, very few of which are overturned, but preparing for those appeals and board meetings takes time from state Department of Public Health and Human Services staff and attorneys. The idea of ​​the department.

Eliminating the appeals board would allow disapproved public assistance applicants to appeal their cases directly to the district court, said Health Department Director Charlie Bratton. He recently told lawmakers.. Currently, rejected applicants can take their case to court after the board hears an appeal, although very few board members do.

“I want to be very clear, we are not looking to eliminate the appeals process with this proposal, rather we are streamlining the process and eliminating what we see as an unnecessary and underutilized step,” Breton said.

The plan to eliminate the Public Assistance Board is one of 14 bills the state Department of Public Health and Human Services has asked lawmakers to draft. The session begins in January. The proposal comes after a review of state agencies under Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte. Red Tape Assistance Task ForceSeeking to improve efficiency and eliminate outdated or unnecessary regulations.

A three-person Public Assistance Board oversees appeals by the Health Department’s Office of Administrative Hearings in nine programs: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Financial Assistance for Low-Income Families with Children. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps; Medicaid, a federal-state program that pays for health care for low-income people; Developmental Disabilities Services; Low Income Energy Assistance Program; Weather Assistance Program; refugee assistance; mental health services; and Healthy Montana Kids, which is the state’s children’s health insurance program.

The proposal to remove the board came as a surprise to at least one of its members, who learned from KN. “I haven’t heard anything from the department,” said Sharon Bonogofsky-Parker, a Billings resident of Janfort in March 2021.

Bonogofsky-Parker said the board meets monthly. She recalled one case during her tenure where the board returned benefits to a disabled military veteran because of someone else’s falsified documentation.

But Bonogofsky-Parker estimates the board sides with the department’s decisions 90% of the time because most cases involve applicants who don’t understand or follow the programs’ rules, have changed income levels or have other obvious disqualifications.

The board provides services by hearing appeals that obstruct the court system, she said. “Generally, these cases are very benign,” Bonogofsky-Parker said. “The board is useful in keeping many of these cases out of court.”

His view contrasted with Brereton’s, which described applicants’ complaints as a benefit of the proposed change.

District courts charge $120 to initiate such a process, according to the Lewis and Clark County District Court Clerk’s Office. That creates obstacles for people trying to prove they qualify for public assistance. In contrast, appeals to the Board of Public Assistance are independent.

State Health Department spokesman John Ebelt said low-income people. Can fill out a form. To request court fees. “This issue has been considered in the conceptual stages of the bill,” he said.

Bonogofsky-Parker said she has no plans to challenge the department’s proposal, although the board may act as a buffer against frivolous court cases. The other two board members, Gianforte appointee Danielle Shine and former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s Carolyn Pease-Lopez, did not respond to phone or email messages.

The Subcommittee on Children, Families, Health, and Human Services will prepare the bill for consideration by the Legislature throughout the 2023 session.

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from From Henry J. With permission from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


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