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Federal court blocks Kentucky's move for Medicaid work requirement

CMS Administrator Seema Verma says she will confer with the Department of Justice to "chart a path forward."

Susan Morse, Senior Editor

Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kentucky-Welcome-Sign-KY87.jpg" target="_blank">Brian Stansberry</a>Credit: Brian Stansberry

A federal court today blocked Kentucky's attempt to mandate work requirements for its Medicaid members to receive benefits.

District Court Judge James E. Boasberg sent the case back to the Department of Health and Human Services for review, saying HHS never adequately consider whether the work requirements would meet Medicaid's goal of providing medical assistance to its citizens.

The decision may have ramifications for other states looking to follow the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services initiative to promote state waivers requiring able-bodied Medicaid recipients to  work to receive the benefit.

Three other states - Arkansas, Indiana and New Hampshire - have received federal approval for work requirements and other states have submitted waiver requests.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma said by statement after the court's decision that she would confer with the Department of Justice "to chart a path forward."

In the meantime, CMS would continue to support innovative, state-driven policies designed to advance the objectives of the Medicaid program, she said.

"Today's decision is disappointing," Verma. "States are the laboratories of democracy and numerous administrations have looked to them to develop and test reforms that have advanced the objectives of the Medicaid program.  The Trump Administration is no different."

Judge Boasberg said it was no secret that the Trump Administration is looking to do away with Affordable Care Act initiatives, among them, Medicaid expansion.

"In this case, the plaintiffs accuse HHS of 'tak[ing] by regulatory fiat what it could not accomplish in Congress,'" Boasberg wrote. "The Secretary and Kentucky, they say, sought to do little more than 'knock people off Medicaid and undermine the Medicaid expansion enacted by Congress.'"

The waiver program would be expected to save Kentucky roughly $331 million dollars primarily by reducing its Medicaid population by an estimated 95,000 people, Boasberg said.

An estimated 21 percent of Medicaid-eligible adults suffer from a substance-use disorder, he said. Kentucky estimates that nearly 90,000 newly enrolled Kentuckians may have a SUD requiring treatment.

Friday's decision posted by Politico was in response to a lawsuit brought against HHS Secretary Alex Azar by advocacy groups on behalf of 16 Medicaid enrollees in Kentucky.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com