The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services has asked a federal judge to dissolve the contempt order he entered against the state agency in July.
U.S. Senior Judge Karl Forester held the cabinet in contempt July 16 after he ruled that it did not comply with a court order to process thousands of requests by patients of Appalachian Regional Healthcare to switch Medicaid managed-care companies.
The contempt order stems from a lawsuit ARH filed against Coventry Cares, the managed-care company that is terminating its contract with the largest health care provider in Eastern Kentucky.
An attorney for the cabinet apologized to Forester in a motion filed Friday.
"Counsel apologizes to the court for the cabinet's inadvertent failure to discern that the court wanted the cabinet to move members prior" to an open enrollment period, the motion said. "The cabinet would never knowingly and intentionally violate a direct court order."
In the motion filed Friday, the cabinet said the court's original order to process transfers was not specific and clear.
ARH operates eight hospitals and other health clinics in the region. Coventry is one of three companies that the state hired Nov. 1, 2011, to manage care for the 560,000 Kentuckians enrolled in the federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled.
When Coventry said in late March that it would sever its contract with ARH on May 4, the hospital chain filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Lexington asking for a preliminary injunction to prevent the termination.
Forester granted temporary injunctive relief in June and said Coventry must continue its contract with ARH through Nov. 1, 2012, to meet the medical needs of 25,000 Eastern Kentucky Medicaid patients.
In July, ARH filed a motion asking Forester to hold the cabinet in contempt for not processing requests by patients to transfer away from Coventry Cares to WellCare of Kentucky Inc., the only other managed-care organization that has a contract with ARH.
Forester's contempt order did not require the cabinet to complete processing the transfers in July. But he ordered the cabinet to proceed with a planned open-enrollment period for all Kentucky Medicaid patients that is set to begin Aug. 20.
In July, Forester said he would deal with possible sanctions against the cabinet at a later date.
The cabinet said in its motion on Friday that it does not "believe that sanctions are appropriate in this case."
Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears