March 28 (UPI) — A federal judge ruled Wednesday to block Kentucky and Arkansas from requiring some Medicaid recipients to work.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg issued the simultaneous rulings, voiding the Trump administration’s approvals to implement a Medicaid work requirement as well as sending the requests back to the Department of Health & Human Services for further review and suspending the program in Arkansas.
Boasberg wrote that Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar’s failure to consider the effects of the work requirement on coverage renders his decision to approve the program arbitrary and capricious.
He added that the department also didn’t address the issues that prompted him to block the Kentucky program in June of last year.
The court “cannot concur that the Medicaid Act leaves the secretary so unconstrained, nor that the states are so armed to refashion the program Congress designed in any way they choose,” he wrote in his ruling Wednesday.
Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the agency would continue to pursue the program.
“We will continue to defend our efforts to give states greater flexibility to help low-income Americans rise out of poverty,” she said. “We believe, as have numerous past administrations, that states are the laboratories of democracy and we will vigorously support their innovative, state-driven efforts to develop and test reforms that will advance the objectives of the Medicaid program.”
Consumer groups, including the National Health Law Program, sued the administration over the work requirement, saying it was contradictory to Medicaid’s objective of providing the poor with access to health care. The Kentucky program removed 18,000 people from coverage after they failed to meet the new requirements.
“We are gratified by the court’s rulings today. They mean that low-income people in Kentucky and Arkansas will maintain their health insurance coverage — coverage that enables them to live, work and participate as fully as they can in their communities. Coverage matters, plain and simple,” said National Health Law Program legal director Jane Perkins.
Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was “disappointed” in the ruling and Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin said he would eliminate the state’s Medicaid expansion if the state is unable to implement the work requirement.