Federal court blocks Kentucky’s new Medicaid work requirements

A Barack Obama-appointed federal judge ruled Friday that Kentucky could not implement work requirements for Medicaid recipients, just days before the plan was to take effect, The Hill reported.

Judge James E. Boasberg wrote in his decision that the work requirements plan doesn’t “help the state furnish medical assistance to its citizens.” The state had estimated that 95,000 people would lose coverage when the requirements took effect.

Kentucky was set to be the first state to have Medicaid work requirements after President Donald Trump’s administration approved the plan in January. Arkansas, Indiana, and New Hampshire have also received approval, and seven other states are waiting to get permission to proceed.

What would the plan have done?

Under Kentucky’s plan, able-bodied adult Medicaid recipients would have been required to pay a monthly premium and to prove they had worked 80 hours per month in order to receive coverage. The “work” could be employment, volunteering, education, or other forms of community engagement.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R), an opponent of the Obamacare and Medicaid expansion, said the state’s current Medicaid setup is financially unsustainable. If the work requirements aren’t eventually allowed, Bevin has said he plans to discontinue Medicaid expansion altogether.

Why did the judge block the plan?

Boasberg’s decision to block the Medicaid work requirements is based on Medicaid’s “central objective” of “furnishing medical assistance to its citizens.”

“At bottom, the record shows that 95,000 people would lose Medicaid coverage, and yet the secretary paid no attention to that deprivation,” Boasberg wrote.

The judge made the distinction that, despite the state’s contention that working improves health, that’s not the same thing as “furnishing medical assistance.”

What now?

Adam Meier, Kentucky’s top health official, said the state is not planning to immediately appeal the ruling. Instead, officials will attempt to “quickly resolve the single issue raised by the court so that we can move forward.”

Seema Verma, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the Trump administration is disappointed but will work with the Justice Department on how to move forward.

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