Medicaid recipients sue to block new work-requirement rules

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Kentucky was to be the first state in the country to require many of its Medicaid recipients to work or perform community service in order to keep their health coverage

The Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Fifteen Medicaid recipients in Kentucky have sued the federal government in an attempt to block new first-in-the-nation rules that would require them to work in order to keep their taxpayer-funded health benefits.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by three nonprofit groups on behalf of 15 Medicaid recipients from across Kentucky.

Less than two weeks ago, the federal government announced it would allow Kentucky to be the first state in the country to require many of its Medicaid recipients to work or perform community service in order to keep their health coverage. The waiver would also charge monthly premiums and would lock people out of their coverage for six months if they fail to notify state officials of job and income changes.

State officials expect the new rules will result in 95,000 people losing Medicaid coverage for a variety of reasons over the next five years. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has signed an executive order that would automatically eliminate the state’s expanded Medicaid program if any part of the new rules is struck down in court. That would effectively end health coverage for more than 400,000 people.

“We will not be intimidated. We will defend the rights of individuals to enroll in Kentucky’s Medicaid program,” said Samuel Brooke, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the lawsuit along with the National Health Law Program and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center.

Congress created Medicaid in 1965 for families on welfare and low-income seniors. But the program has grown to become nation’s largest health insurance program, covering about 1 in 5 Americans.

In Kentucky, because of the expansion of the program under former President Barack Obama’s health care law, Medicaid now covers more than a quarter of the state’s population. Bevin and other Republican leaders say the state can’t afford that. His goal is to shrink the program by encouraging people to get jobs that would move them into the private health insurance market.

But critics say the new requirements are designed solely to strip people of their Medicaid benefits and save the state money.

“That’s what their real purpose is,” said Anne Marie Regin, senior staff attorney for the Kentucky Equal Justice Center.

Federal law allows the government to grant waivers for Medicaid requirements for the purpose of experimenting with new ideas that further the program’s goals. The lawsuit seeks to prove the Trump administration went too far with the work requirements and other aspects of Kentucky’s waiver.

“This amounts to a project demonstrating how to destroy a strong health care program,” said Jane Perkins, legal director for the National Health Law Program.

A spokesman for the Health and Human Services department declined to comment.

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