DOJ, Arkansas ask Supreme Court to reinstate Medicaid work requirements

The Trump administration and Arkansas officials are asking the Supreme Court to allow the state to put its embattled Medicaid work requirements back in place.

The Arkansas Works program was struck down in both federal District Court and Appeals Court. Work requirements in other states have faced similar legal battles.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement that the Department of Justice joined the state in submitting a filing in support of the program.

“Arkansas Works’ model was designed to encourage able-bodied Arkansans without dependents to transition into the workforce, building a stronger, more resilient connection with their communities,” Rutledge said.

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Proponents of work requirements, including Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma, argue that they lift people out of poverty and improve their economic standing.

However, lower courts have ruled the goal of Medicaid law is to provide coverage to low-income people and that helping people secure employment doesn't fall under that umbrella.

Under President Donald Trump, CMS has made work requirements a key focus, saying the Affordable Care Act's expansion led to large numbers of able-bodied adults enrolling in the program rather than seeking employment to obtain benefits, which is stretching state budgets thin.

Opponents of work requirements argue they're instead designed to boot people off of the rolls and do little to boost employment. In Arkansas, for example, a report from the Commonwealth Fund found that the state's uninsured rate grew while there was limited impact on employment.

Some also argue that the reporting requirements to remain eligible for Medicaid coverage are quite onerous, leading people to drop from the program. Work requirements in other states such as Kentucky and New Hampshire have been similarly challenged. 

Meanwhile, enrollment in Medicaid is swelling due to COVID-19, which could push states to seek measures to cut program costs.