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VOL. 37 | NO. 11 | Friday, March 15, 2013

Court cuts fees for lawyers for TennCare patients

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NASHVILLE (AP) - A federal appeals court has struck down a significant portion of the $2.57 million in legal fees awarded to attorneys who have represented TennCare patients in a years-long fight with the state of Tennessee.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday said attorneys should not have been awarded fees on several billed items, including for such things as meetings with state lawmakers and doing work on a separate case that involved the same issues.

The case concerned the rights of TennCare patients to appeal denial of health-care services. The federal Medicaid program is administered in Tennessee under TennCare. The fees were billed for legal work by attorneys with the Nashville-based Tennessee Justice Center, the AARP and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice.

It's not clear whether the attorneys will appeal.

"We are still analyzing the decision," said Gordon Bonnyman, executive director of the T ennessee Justice Center.

The opinion said attorneys had every right to be paid for defending the civil rights of people, but at the same time these kinds of cases could easily become "a way of life" for the lawyers involved.

The opinion does not say how much money was cut from the fees. The appellate court also upheld some fees, saying some of the work was necessary in order to enforce a 2003 consent decree.

State officials had sought the reduction in legal fees it had to pay, and appealed the $2.57 million that was awarded by a federal judge in Nashville. A spokesperson for the TennCare Bureau said she had no comment because the issue is still pending before the courts.

The state and the Tennessee Justice Center have spent years fighting in court over the TennCare program. The state in the past has hired several outside law firms to help with the TennCare legislation and has paid out millions of dollars in legal fees for that assistance.