Azar: HHS 'undeterred' by court decision striking down Kentucky's Medicaid work requirements 

HHS Secretary Alex Azar spoke at the Heritage Foundation on Thursday morning. (Paige Minemyer)

WASHINGTON—Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the agency is "undeterred" by a judge's ruling overturning work requirements in Kentucky.

Addressing the Heritage Foundation on Thursday morning, Azar said the agency's goal is to make "sensible reforms" that address the Medicaid program's growth and changing demographics, as Medicaid expansion led to far more single, "able-bodied" enrollees. 

"I've told the team as we work on this that the mantra should be common sense," Azar said. "Anything a state does here, people should look at it, 'Oh yeah. That's not some unreasonable, crazy thing.'" 

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A judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that HHS did not consider whether adding the work requirements would allow Kentucky's Medicaid program to provide medical assistance to people in the state. In approving Kentucky's work requirements waiver, HHS failed to note that the changes could lead to 95,000 people losing coverage—a "glaring" oversight, the judge ruled. 

RELATED: Despite U.S. court's ruling, Medicaid work requirements advance in other states 

Azar said HHS and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services would "take learnings" from the judge's ruling for future waivers but said that requests from states would continue to be approved. 

"We will continue to litigate. We will continue to approve plans. We are continuing to work with states, and we will drive forward," Azar said. 

In addition to addressing the judge's ruling in the Kentucky case, Azar also touted HHS' progress in tackling his major policy pillars: the cost of health insurance, drug prices and the industry's move to value-based care. 

A key element across these policy goals is reviewing and rethinking existing laws and regulations. HHS has already kicked off a review of the Stark Law, and Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan told legislators earlier this month that it also plans to issue a request for information on ways to rethink the agency's enforcement of the anti-kickback statute. 

Azar said that requests for information have been issued on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and 42 CFR Part 2, another privacy statute. These laws can impede value-based care, Azar said, and the latter also hinders the response to the opioid epidemic. 

A video of Azar's full speech is embedded below:

 

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