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Kentuckians represented by SPLC sue Trump administration over radical Medicaid changes

Fifteen Kentucky residents who are enrolled in Medicaid filed a class-action lawsuit today against the Trump administration, challenging its approval of sweeping changes to Medicaid law that will endanger the health care of tens of thousands of low-income individuals and families in the state.

The plaintiffs are represented by the National Health Law Program (NHeLP), Kentucky Equal Justice Center (KEJC), and the SPLC. Jenner & Block is counsel to NHeLP in this case.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the lawsuit charges that Kentucky’s recently approved Medicaid waivers violate the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS’) authority under the Social Security Act, because they are not an experimental project that is consistent with the objectives of the Medicaid Act. It is the first lawsuit that has been brought to challenge a Trump administration Medicaid waiver approval.

“Through imposition of premiums and cost sharing, ‘lockouts,’ benefits cuts, and a work requirement, the waiver will radically reshape Medicaid in a manner that, by the state’s own admission, will result in substantial reductions in coverage,” the lawsuit states.

After HHS announced approval of Kentucky’s waiver, the state’s Republican Gov. Matt Bevin promptly signed an executive order in an attempt to intimidate those at risk from seeking relief in the courts. Bevin’s executive order calls for the end of the state’s Medicaid expansion if his approved waiver is found to be illegal.

“The governor’s threat – to punish the 400,000 residents who have received Medicaid under the expansion if a court rules against the Kentucky HEALTH project – is shameless,” SPLC Deputy Legal Director Samuel Brooke said, “We will not be intimidated. We will defend the rights of individuals to enroll in Kentucky’s Medicaid program.”

Along with the SPLC, the National Health Law Program (NHeLP) and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center (KEJC) are representing plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Jenner & Block is counsel to NHeLP in the case.

NHeLP Legal Director Jane Perkins said the Secretary far exceeded his authority in granting Kentucky’s waiver.

"These waiver approvals raise a host of legal issues -- not just the work requirements and premiums but eliminating health care services, such as transportation to health care facilities or providers. This amounts to a project demonstrating how to destroy a strong health care program," Perkins said. "Allowing the State to ignore fundamental Medicaid protections will result in large numbers of low-income individuals and families losing health care coverage. We are calling on the federal court to step in and stop the Trump administration from re-writing the Medicaid Act and stripping Kentuckians of vital health care."

KEJC Senior Attorney Anne Marie Regan said, "The Cabinet’s own estimate is that around 95,000 Kentuckians will lose Medicaid coverage. The purpose of Medicaid is to provide medical insurance to people who cannot afford it, not to create barriers to coverage. Demonstration waivers are supposed to make access to health care easier. This approval does the opposite. It is not only in violation of Medicaid law but is immoral."

The plaintiffs represent Kentuckians from all walks of life who rely on Medicaid for their health care. They reside in all parts of the state and are active in various ways in their communities.

They include a minister (who is also a mortician), a church administrator, a mechanic, a musician, a retired health care worker, and students, caregivers, house cleaners, a bank teller and housekeepers for a health care center and a university. The plaintiffs have a variety of health care concerns, from high blood pressure, diabetes and mental health problems to poor vision and dental problems. 

Under the approved waiver, they are all in danger of losing Medicaid coverage.