SPLC sues Trump administration for approving Arkansas Medicaid work requirement

Cesar Ardon was a welder for 15 years before he had surgery last year to remove a baseball-sized tumor over his right ribs.

Since then, he has used Medicaid for treatment related to his tumor and other health problems including arthritis, vision issues, carpal tunnel and high cholesterol.

Now working as a self-employed handyman, he has unpredictable work hours. Sometimes, he gets up to 20 hours a week. But when the work slows down – particularly in the fall and winter – his hours dwindle.

This year, he was notified that he would lose his Medicaid benefits unless he could show that he works at least 20 hours a week. He then got a notice telling him he hadn’t complied for the month of June, and if he missed another two months his coverage would end for the rest of the year. He met the work requirement in July, but with spotty internet access, he was unable to log onto the state Medicaid online portal – the only place where work hours are accepted. When he did eventually access the portal, he found it difficult to navigate.

Ardon is a plaintiff in a lawsuit that the SPLC and other organizations filed today against the Trump administration. The complaint challenges the federal government’s approval of a request from the state of Arkansas to make work requirements a condition of receiving Medicaid benefits.

“I worry about getting sick and being unable to work and access health care if I lost my Medicaid coverage,” said Ardon. “I hope this lawsuit will help others like me. No one should have to lose their Medicaid coverage just because they are having trouble finding enough work.”

Ardon is also concerned that he could lose his Medicaid benefits just because he can’t always get onto the website portal.

“My access to the internet is a problem,” said Ardon. “I own a computer, but I am often unable to afford my internet bill. I do not have easy access to the internet to report my work hours on the Access Arkansas website.”

Sam Brooke, deputy legal director for the SPLC, said: “Arkansas’s Medicaid waiver plan has got the situation completely backwards. Cutting the health benefits of people who cannot afford medical insurance or don’t have access to the internet or a computer will not make them healthier. Medicaid is not a work or computer literacy program; it is a program to help people who cannot afford health insurance get the medical coverage to stay healthy.”

Brooke added: “Most of the people who are covered by Medicaid in Arkansas already work, and those who don’t are either children, have a disability or are taking care of family members."

The federal lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., challenges the federal government’s approval of Arkansas’ request to condition the receipt of health coverage on this onerous work requirement. The approval will lead to thousands of low-income individuals and families losing access to vital health care.

According to the lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMM), HHS violated the U.S. Constitution and federal laws when it approved the work requirement.

Charles Gresham, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, was also unable to navigate the online reporting system alone. He has had trouble finding and keeping work because of issues related to his seizures. He received a notice in May that unless he could meet the 20-hour-a-week work requirement, he too would lose his Medicaid coverage.

“Arkansas Works gives a person in my situation the ability to continue with my care to resolve whatever health issues I have,” Gresham said. “Without the program, my health can only get worse.”

The SPLC is representing the plaintiffs along with Legal Aid of Arkansas and the National Health Law Program. This is the second federal lawsuit that challenges a Medicaid waiver plan with a work a requirement component that was approved by HHS.

In June, a federal judge vacated the Trump administration’s approval of a similar work requirement in Kentucky, and sent the project back to HHS. The SPLC is also challenging the Kentucky waiver package along with the National Health Law Program and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center. The law firm Jenner & Block is working with National Health Law Program in the Kentucky case.