New York City has implemented several changes to the Medicaid Fair Hearing procedures. One of those changes includes restricting the ability to obtain an adjournment of the hearing by making the request online or by telephone. When contacting the N.Y.S. Office of Temporary Disability and Assistance (OTDA) office in Albany to request an adjournment, the agents who answer the phone will question the basis for the adjournment. They use a subjective standard of “good cause” to determine whether or not to grant the adjournment. In fact, I had a client who requested an adjournment of a fair hearing because the hearing was scheduled on Rosh Hashanah and she wanted to use that day to prepare for family who would be visiting for the Holiday. OTDA denied my request for an adjournment because Rosh Hashanah was not observed until sundown on the scheduled date.
I argued vehemently that religious observance was “good cause” and that OTDA cannot deny an adjournment request based upon religious observance. However, the request for an adjournment was denied. The agency’s rigid construction of “good cause” emanates from a lawsuit filed against the OTDA for delays in providing fair hearings to individuals who require immediate assistance. A court order is in place requiring OTDA to schedule a fair hearing within 90 days of the request.
The need to ensure efficiency must be balanced with the need to ensure that those with legitimate needs to postpone hearings are not unduely prejudiced by OTDA’s need to comply with the court’s order. It must be noted that pursuant to the Fishman lawsuit, that if an individual defaults (fails to appear) on a fair hearing, OTDA is required to notifiy the individual that their case will be defaulted if they fail to notify the agency that they wish to proceed with the hearing. Although my request for an adjournment was denied, I was able to obtain another hearing date on behalf of my client knowing about the Fishman litigation.