15 Kentuckians Sue Trump Admin Over New Medicaid Work Rules

on January 11, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images North America

In a class action federal lawsuit filed Wednesday, 15 low-income Kentucky residents enrolled in Medicaid sued the Trump administration for giving the state’s Republican governor a green light to impose work requirements and other eligibility restrictions on the health program.

The plaintiffs, Kentucky Medicaid recipients with ages ranging from 20 to 62, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other advocacy groups, are accusing the administration of “threatening irreparable harm to the health and welfare of the poorest and most vulnerable in our country,” and demanding the court block the implementation of the new requirements.

The case is challenging the administration’s crusade for Medicaid work requirements on both its substance and its process, arguing that the new policies “sharply deviate from the congressionally-established requirements of the Medicaid program and vastly exceed any lawful exercise of the Secretary’s limited waiver authority.”

“States cannot impose additional eligibility requirements that are not explicitly allowed by the Medicaid Act,” the complaint states.

The groups are also calling out the way the Trump administration implemented the policy, noting that CMS Administrator Seema Verma’s letter to state Medicaid directors announcing her openness to approving work requirements “was not submitted for notice and comment, and was not published in the Federal Register.” Furthermore, Kentucky asked for the waiver back in 2016, under the Obama administration, and the public comment period for it closed long before the new guidelines were released.

By Kentucky’s own estimate, the new rules will lead to nearly 100,000 fewer people being enrolled in Medicaid. The state says this reduction will be due to Medicaid recipients finding jobs and switching to employer-sponsored insurance.

But the lawsuit argues that many people are much more likely to fall through the crack and go uninsured should the new regulations go into effect.

The oldest plaintiff, Ronnie Maurice Stewart, is a 62-year-old who suffers from diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure and vision problems and recently retired due to declining health. His Social Security retirement benefits are his only income, putting him well below the poverty line and making him eligible for Medicaid. The lawsuit states that Stewart is unlikely to be able to meet the new work requirements, and unlikely to be able to afford the new premiums the waiver imposes.

“It will mean that he cannot pay for other necessary expenses such as food and rent,” the complaint states.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is expected to hear the case sometime in the coming months.

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