Political News

Trump administration doubles down on letting Kentucky impose Medicaid work requirements

Posted November 20, 2018 10:48 p.m. EST

— The Trump administration has once again approved Kentucky's request to require certain Medicaid recipients to get jobs or lose their benefits.

The state was set to begin implementing the mandate this summer, but was blocked by a US district court judge, who voided the federal government's earlier approval. Judge James Boasberg said the Department of Health and Human Services did not adequately consider whether the Kentucky HEALTH project would help the state provide medical benefits for its residents, a central objective of Medicaid. He kicked the matter back to the agency for further review.

In reapproving the state's waiver on Tuesday, the agency said requiring recipients to work is in line with Medicaid''s objectives to improve beneficiaries' health and financial independence.

Starting April 1, Kentucky can require working age, non-disabled adult enrollees without dependents to work, volunteer, go to job training or participate in other activities for up to 80 hours a month to maintain their coverage. It also mandates that many recipients pay premiums and locks them out of the program for up to six months if they violate certain rules.

The state projected that the overhaul would reduce the Medicaid rolls by up to 95,000 people.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin said the reapproval will ensure the state can provide benefits for traditional Medicaid beneficiaries and offer a path for improving the health of all participants.

"Kentucky HEALTH is essential to the long-term success of the state's Medicaid program," he said in a statement.

The closely watched legal battle could have national implications as the Trump administration permits more state requests to implement work requirements, a historic change in the 53-year-old safety net program.

So far, five states have received approvals, though only Arkansas has implemented its plan. Wisconsin, Indiana and New Hampshire are the other three.

Nearly 12,300 Arkansas residents have lost their benefits since the new requirements took effect on June 1. A coalition of consumer groups filed a similar lawsuit against the Trump administration in an effort to halt the mandate there.

The National Health Law Program, which is involved in the lawsuits in both Kentucky and Arkansas, said it plans to continue the litigation.

"The Trump team essentially has approved the same legally troubled waiver, again proving this administration is a wrecking ball when it comes to health care law," said Jeremy Leaming, a spokesman for the program.