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The Social Security Administration and state officials routinely turn away disabled and mentally ill people who qualify for SSI and Medi-Cal, according to a class action filed Wednesday in federal court by a Berkeley, Calif., watchdog group. In Kildare v. Saenz C004732JL, attorneys for the Homeless Action Center and seven needy San Francisco Bay Area residents allege that state officials often don’t seek out county hospital records when they decide whether people qualify for benefits — although those facilities are most often used by poor people. Instead, the applicants are evaluated by doctors contracted by the state. Those physicians often reject applicants seeking long-term disability and Medi-Cal, according to the suit. The state is required to seek medical records from the physician most familiar with the applicant’s medical history, said Steven Weiss, staff counsel for the action center along with Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe partner Robert Borton. The legal fight will center on how far the state is required to go to get an accurate picture of an applicant’s medical history, said Borton. “It’s certainly highly possible (California officials) will say they do the best they can with limited resources,” he said, adding that those efforts are not enough because so many qualified people have been rejected. A spokesman for the California Department of Social Services — the agency handling the initial application process for people who want federal disability benefits — declined comment on the suit, as did local representatives for the Social Security Administration. “If a person lists that they were an inpatient (at a county hospital) I assume that those records would be sought,” said Dan Ramage, who is in the Santa Rosa, Calif., office of public affairs for the Social Security Administration. When an applicant’s medical records are “inconclusive, people occasionally will be asked to go to a consultative exam,” he said. “Each case is handled on its own merits.” Ramage added that many factors are considered in addition to medical history to determine if someone is eligible for benefits. The California Department of Social Services distributes SSI and other supplemental payments to more than 1 million people, and 68 percent of those people are also disabled, said department spokeswoman Blanca Barna. When people fall through cracks in the system, cities and counties pick up the tab, said Homeless Action Center director Patricia Wall. The lawsuit names the director of the state social services department, the commissioner of the Social Security Administration, and state officials who oversee disability programs.

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