Supreme Court pulls Medicaid work requirements case off docket

Supreme Court
The Supreme Court pulled a hearing on Medicaid's work requirements off its docket, likely spelling doom for an appeal from two states over the controversial program. (Getty/BrianPIrwin)

The Supreme Court announced Thursday it will no longer hear oral arguments later this month on an appeal over the controversial Medicaid work requirements program in New Hampshire and Arkansas.

Legal experts say the move likely means the case won’t be heard this term and possibly may not be heard at all, especially with the Biden administration signaling a different approach to work requirements.

“By taking the cases off the docket, the court is signaling that it won’t hear them this term and probably that it’ll never hear them at all,” University of Michigan Law Professor Nicholas Bagley told Fierce Healthcare.

A major question mark, though, is whether the court will vacate the decisions by several appellate courts that upheld lower court rulings that the programs should be struck down. 

"If the Supreme Court is not going to vacate the D.C. Circuit ruling, that means the decision on the books is one that clearly explains why work requirements are not permitted under the Medicaid statute," said Rachel Sachs, associate professor of law at Washington University, in an interview with Fierce Healthcare. 

She added that it is unlikely for the case to come back and "extremely unlikely that this issue will return in the near future."

The Biden administration asked the court back in February to cancel the oral arguments originally scheduled for March 29. The administration said in a filing that allowing the requirements to take effect won’t promote the objectives of Medicaid to extend health insurance to low-income people.

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President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice called for the court to vacate judgments of appeals courts and remand the case back to the Department of Health and Human Services so it can finish a review of all the waivers.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement back in February that the legal filing seeking the delay was a “politically motivated stunt designed to avoid a Supreme Court decision upholding a program that encourages personal responsibility while still providing healthcare coverage for those seeking gainful employment.”

Arkansas’ work requirements program was installed in 2018 and led to approximately 18,000 people losing Medicaid coverage before the program was struck down by a federal judge.

Appellate courts upheld judgments from lower courts that New Hampshire and Arkansas’ programs did not meet the objectives of the Medicaid program. The states appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the cases late last year.

Court rulings have also struck down programs in other states including Kentucky and Michigan. Kentucky pulled its program in 2019 after a Democrat was elected governor.

Arkansas and New Hampshire’s attorneys general did not return requests for comment on the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday.