United States District Court for the Central District of California grants a motion for preliminary injunction against California’s Department of Health Care Services and its Director, Michelle Baass, in free speech case brought by AHF which now prevents the state from ending AHF’s contract while a formal appeal remains pending
“If it wasn’t for AHF, I wouldn’t be alive today.”
Sharon Wilson, member of Positive Healthcare for over two decades
LOS ANGELES (November 28, 2022) AHF, the world’s largest provider of health care services to people living with HIV and AIDS, hailed a federal court ruling issued today granting a preliminary injunction in a free speech case against the state of California’s Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) and its Director, Michelle Baass. The sweeping injunction prevents the state and Baass from preemptively cancelling a Medi-Cal contract with AHF’s Positive Healthcare special needs plan (PHC) on December 31, 2022. (Link to Injunction Ruling)
AHF’s motion for preliminary injunction sought to prevent California’s DHCS from “… terminating or refusing to amend or extend” AHF’s contract for its Positive Healthcare special needs plan—a 27-year-old AIDS care program created and operated by AHF and the only specialized managed care plan for people living with AIDS in California—while the state’s cancellation of the contract remains under formal appeal by AHF. The motion was filed October 4, 2022, in United State District Court for the Central District of California [Case No. 2:22-CV-06636-MEMF (Ex)].
“The Court held that AHF showed a likelihood of success in its claims that DHCS violated AHF’s constitutional rights, including AHF’s right to speak freely on important matters of public concern,” said attorney Andrew F. Kim, of Kim Riley Law, and who filed the motion for preliminary injunction.
“When I first found out I was HIV-positive, my GYN doctor kicked me out of the office and said he could no longer be my doctor. I was seven-months pregnant when that happened,” said Sharon Wilson, a person living with AIDS who has been a member of the Positive Healthcare special needs health plan for over two decades. “When I went to AIDS Healthcare Foundation, … they embraced me with loving arms and wanted to help me to survive. If it wasn’t for AHF, I wouldn’t be alive today. A lot of lives would be lost.”
DHCS alleged AHF breached its contract and improperly communicated with Positive Healthcare patients in November 2021, when AHF sent a letter urging PHC enrollees to contact DHCS directly to advocate for the continuation of Positive Healthcare and the state’s renewal of AHF’s contract for the program, which was then set to sunset or end December 31, 2021. Despite these alleged breaches, however, on December 21, 2021, AHF and the Department reached an agreement and executed amendments to the PHC contract extending its terms through December 31, 2022.
In late June 2022, however, AHF received notice from DHCS that it was NOT renewing AHF’s contract for the plan for 2023. This action would force patients into other plans and providers that do not offer the breadth of services available at AHF, services that allow a patient to successfully fight this life-threatening disease, such as registered nurse care management, guaranteed transportation to medical appointments, and access to food and housing services. Moreover, other medical providers do not have the years-long relationships with these patients—and may also not have the same degree of expertise in managing the care of HIV and AIDS patients. AHF created and has successfully run the program on behalf of California’s Medicaid program since 1995.
On July 8, 2022, AHF filed a formal Notice of Dispute with DCHS challenging its decision to let the Positive Healthcare contract expire. AHF filed a federal lawsuit asserting infringement of its first amendment rights over the state’s punitive action. AHF also filed a Petition for Writ of Mandate in Sacramento Superior Court seeking to halt DHCS’s cancellation of the contract.
Until the court granted the preliminary injunction today, DHCS and Baass appeared determined to end the contract at year’s end despite AHF’s pending appeal.
In granting the injunction, Judge Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong noted that the Department of Health Care Services believed that “AHF was a difficult MCP (managed care plan) to oversee.” As to AHF’s assertion of violation of First Amendment/free speech rights, the judge wrote:
“The essence of AHF’s claim as it relates to its own speech, is that the Department’s decision not to extend the Contract violated its right to free speech and petition … because the Department’s Director (Baass) expressed that the reason for not extending the Contract, among other things, was AHF’s act of speaking.”
“In a big win for free speech, Judge Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong forcefully upheld AHF’s right to speak out, petition and advocate with, and on behalf of our patients and Positive Healthcare members we care for, many for over a quarter of a century,” said Michael Weinstein, president, AHF. “This injunction prevents the state and Ms. Baass from punitively canceling the Positive Healthcare contract—and thus, the Positive Healthcare program itself— at the end of December until our formal Notice of Dispute and related lawsuits have at least been heard and adjudicated.”