Westside Mothers v. Olsezewski (Mich.)
In 1999 the Law Center filed Westside Mothers v. Olsezewski, a class-action lawsuit on behalf of one million low-income children that challenged the state of Michigan’s Medicaid system, which paid doctors and dentists too little to ensure that they would be willing to treat patients on Medicaid.
Filed on behalf of a number of medical, dental and child advocacy organizations, as well as a class of low-income children and their families, Westside Mothers documented that throughout Michigan, low-income families faced a dangerous shortage of care for their children. The Law Center litigated the case in collaboration with Dechert LLP, Michigan Legal Services, the National Health Law Project, and the Michigan Association for Children with Emotional Disorders.
The District Court dismissed the initial complaint, endorsing an unprecedented argument that the Medicaid Act was a contract between the state and federal government and thus could not be enforced by lawsuits brought by children or their health care providers. After the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit rejected that interpretation in 2002, the case returned to the District Court, where it was once again dismissed for lack of standing.
In 2006, the Sixth Circuit Court, agreeing in part with the District Court’s conclusion that Medicaid law could not be enforced by the plaintiffs, allowed the Law Center to submit an amended complaint, returning the case for a third time to the District Court.
As the Law Center pressed forward tenaciously in the case, the Michigan Department of Community Health announced in 2006 that it would increase its rates, and in 2007 the parties settled the case.
The settlement preserved significant expansions of the state’s program and major increases in rates paid to doctors and dentists for treating Medicaid patients. The settlement also required the state to monitor children’s access to care, which it had never done before the settlement. Finally, the settlement provides for ongoing oversight of the state’s program by representatives of the plaintiffs.