In-home workers receive compensation for lost benefits

About 22,000 home health care workers in Washington State will receive back pay totaling more than $57 million after a Thurston County jury ruled Dec. 22 that the state breached its contract with in-home workers when it cut their benefits between 2003 and 2007.

As part of its “shared living rule,” the state Department of Social and Health Services cut benefits for in-home care workers by 15 percent in 2003, arguing that the state should not pay caregivers for regular home services they would perform themselves, such as laundry and meal preparation.

The state Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the rule violated federal Medicaid law because the beneficiaries were no longer treated equitably. The Department of Social and Health Services terminated the rule shortly thereafter, but refused to pay compensation to the workers, sparking a class action lawsuit filed in March 2007.

In trial, the state argued it was unaware it was breaking federal law, and it was trying to “maximize resources,” according to an article in the Tacoma News Tribune.

Tacoma attorney Darrell Cochran, who represented the workers in the three-week trial, said federal law was already clear, and he was pleased the jury held the state accountable.

“If this was AT&T, and AT&T had snuck in an illegal charge on all of our phones that cost us $5,000 on all of our bills for over five years, we wouldn’t hesitate to hold them responsible,” he told the Tacoma News Tribune.