Michigan faces lawsuit challenging legality of Medicaid work requirements

Michigan is being sued by a constellation of health advocacy groups calling the state’s Medicaid work requirement program unlawful, the latest state to face a legal challenge over the controversial program.

The lawsuit announced on Friday charges that work requirements are going to result in major coverage losses and that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services doesn’t have the authority to approve the project.

“Congress requires waivers to further Medicaid’s stated objective of furnishing medical assistance,” said Jane Perkins, legal director of the advocacy group National Health Law Program, one of the groups participating in the lawsuit. “We filed this case because the federal government, once again, has ignored these limits in its effort to fundamentally transform Medicaid and ‘explode’ the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of health coverage for the medically necessary services that low-income people need.”

One study pegged coverage losses at between 61,000 and 183,000 people due to the work requirements, according to the Michigan Poverty Law Program, one of the groups that is part of the lawsuit.

“It is not hyperbole to say that this law will lead to illness and death for individuals who lose their healthcare coverage,” said Lisa Ruby of the program.

RELATED: Study: Adults impacted by Medicaid work requirements struggle to sustain employment

CMS approved Michigan’s application for work requirements in December 2018. The program is expected to go online next year.

But health advocacy groups have a good record in court challenging such requirements. A federal judge has struck down work requirements in Kentucky, Arkansas and New Hampshire. A panel of appellate judges is considering an appeal to the ruling.

Other states are facing similar lawsuits. Indiana delayed the start of its work requirement program because of a similar legal challenge.

Overall CMS has approved waivers for four other states: Arizona, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin. None of the states have implemented the program, according to an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

RELATED: CMS to reject Utah's 'partial' Medicaid expansion

Another nine states have pending waiver applications before CMS for work requirements.

But some states may be giving a second look at pursuing the requirements. Kentucky’s newly elected Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said after an election earlier this month that he intends to pull the waiver when he takes office next month.

In Virginia, which has a waiver application pending, Democrats took control of the state House and padded its majority in the state Senate. The new Democratic-controlled state legislature could decide to jettison the waiver.