A federal judge this week issued a ruling preventing the state from preemptively ending the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s contract with Medi-Cal covering 825 patients living with AIDS in California.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong held that AHF showed a likelihood of success in its claims that California’s Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) and its director, Michelle Baass, violated the foundation’s constitutional rights.

Until the court granted the preliminary injunction, DHCS and Baass appeared determined to end the contract at year’s end despite AHF’s pending appeal, according to the foundation.

In an email message to City News Service, a DHCS representative said the agency cannot comment on pending litigation. The department said its priority “is to ensure the health and well-being of affected Medi-Cal members.”

AHF’s Positive Healthcare special-needs plan is 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, according to the foundation. 

The state’s cancellation of the contract remains under formal appeal by AHF. DHCS alleged AHF breached its contract and improperly communicated with Positive Healthcare patients in November 2021, when AHF sent a letter urging 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.

Despite these alleged breaches, however, on Dec. 21, 2021, AHF and the department reached an agreement and executed amendments to the PHC contract extending its terms through Dec. 31. In late June, however, AHF received notice from DHCS that it was not renewing AHF’s contract for the plan for 2023.

According to the Los Angeles- based foundation, the action would force patients into other plans and providers that do not offer the breadth of services available at AHF. In July, AHF filed a formal Notice of Dispute with DHCS challenging its decision to let the Positive Healthcare contract expire. AHF filed a federal lawsuit in Los Angeles asserting infringement of its first amendment rights over the state’s punitive action. AHF also filed a petition in Sacramento Superior Court seeking to halt DHCS’s cancellation of the contract.

“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,” Michael Weinstein, president of the AHF, said in a statement.

“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.”

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