Kapa’a’s Richard K. Lovell wins QUEST suit

Richard K. Lovell of Kapa’a suit has won a suit against the State of Hawai’i that questioned the state low-income QUEST medical program and how it has been applied to the disabled.

Judge William A. Fletcher of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District recently ruled that the state Department of Human Services’ QUEST medical-insurance program for low-income residents violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by categorically excluding the disabled from getting QUEST benefits.

The appeals-court ruling upheld state district and Honolulu federal-court rulings that the state violated the ADA, and that Lovell and others are entitled to damages and attorney fees.

While components of a class-action suit alleging the state violated the ADA are ongoing, Fletcher’s appeals court opinion concluded that the state’s QUEST medical insurance plan unfairly discriminated against people with disabilities.

“By choosing categorically to exclude disabled persons from QUEST, despite knowing that some of those excluded would remain without any coverage, the State has failed to act with the requisite care to protect the rights of the disabled,” Fletcher wrote in affirming lower-court actions in Lovell v. Chandler.

“This case involves facial discrimination, in the form of a categorical exclusion of disabled persons from a public program,” Fletcher wrote.

The defendant is Susan Chandler, formerly director of the state Department of Human Services.

Representatives of the state attorney general’s office argued that certain other state-sponsored insurance programs, specifically Medicaid, are available to the disabled, financially insecure population.

But Fletcher and his court colleagues found the state missed the point of the suit, which alleges the QUEST program denied benefits to Lovell and others solely on the basis of their disabilities.

Around 300 people have joined the ongoing, class-action case.

The court rulings call on the state to make changes to its QUEST program to make it more accessible to the handicapped population.

Steven Kawada, acting administrator in the state Department of Human Services’ Med-QUEST Division, said he thought the issue had been addressed by changes to the QUEST program made several years ago.

Representatives from the attorney general’s Med-QUEST division did not return telephone calls seeking comment. Attorneys for Lovell were also not available yesterday.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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