Kentucky officials file lawsuit to defend Medicaid work requirements

Kentucky officials are going to court to defend the concept of Medicaid work requirements.

In a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court, they seek a judicial declaration that the state’s demonstration program complies with all applicable federal laws. Federal authorities approved the program—known as Kentucky HEALTH—in January, making Kentucky the first state to get a green light to require certain Medicaid beneficiaries to work.

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Later that month, Kentucky also became the first state to see such a waiver contested in court. A group of Kentucky residents sued the Trump administration over its approval of Kentucky HEALTH, contending that the newly approved waiver doesn’t comply with Section 1115 of the Social Security Act.

Though they are not named as defendants in that suit, Gov. Matt Bevin and two of the state’s top health officials have opted to sue those Kentucky residents in a bid to defend their Medicaid demonstration program. They argue that Kentucky HEALTH is indeed within the HHS secretary’s waiver authority under the Social Security Act and that it complies with the federal Medicaid Act and the U.S. Constitution.

What the courts ultimately decide regarding the legality of Kentucky’s program could have significant implications, as several other states have pending waiver applications seeking to impose similar eligibility restrictions in their Medicaid programs.

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So far, Indiana is the only other state to have a waiver approved that includes work requirements, but unlikely to be the last since the Trump administration has made it clear that it supports such policies.

Critics argue that many of those eligible for Medicaid who can work already do, and worry that the new regulations will do little but impede access to care for low-income individuals. CMS Administrator Seema Verma, though, has made the case that encouraging able-bodied Medicaid enrollees to work can help improve their health, saying “true compassion is lifting Americans most in need out of difficult circumstances.”