SPLC vows to sue Trump administration again over second approval of Kentucky Medicaid waiver scheme

The SPLC said today that it will sue the Trump administration again for approving Kentucky’s Medicaid waiver plan a second time. This lawsuit will be brought in collaboration with the National Health Law Program (NHELP) and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center (KEJC). The law firm Jenner & Block is representing NHELP in the lawsuit.

In June, a federal judge blocked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS’) initial approval of the plan. The court found that HHS failed to adequately consider whether it would help Kentucky provide Medicaid coverage to its low-income residents.

Kentucky’s waiver plan, called “Kentucky HEALTH,” was set to take effect on July 1. But the SPLC and its partners filed a class action lawsuit, Stewart v. Azar, challenging the Trump administration’s approval of sweeping changes to Medicaid law that would endanger the health care of tens of thousands of low-income individuals and families in the state.

As a result of the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg sent the plan back to HHS to reconsider it in accordance with the Medicaid Act.

However, federal health officials announced yesterday that they had approved Kentucky’s Medicaid work requirements again, despite evidence that the plan will lead to hundreds of thousands of hard-working Kentuckians losing access to vital health care coverage.

“Same thing, different results: That’s what HHS hopes to achieve by reapproving Kentucky’s Medicaid waiver application without any meaningful changes,” said Samuel Brooke, deputy legal director for the SPLC. “We intend to pursue the next court challenge as vigorously as we have before when we won. We have no reason to believe that the results will be any different this time.”

In his June ruling, Boasberg said the government had acted in an “arbitrary and capricious" manner in approving Kentucky’s Medicaid waiver plan. The plan included numerous illegal obstacles to accessing Medicaid health care services, such as requiring Kentucky residents to work in order to receive medical benefits.

“Kentucky HEALTH runs directly counter to the purpose of the Medicaid Act, which is to furnish health care coverage to low-income individuals and families,” National Health Law Program Legal Director Jane Perkins said. “Medicaid is a health care program, not a jobs-training program.”