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SPLC sues Trump administration again over second approval of Kentucky Medicaid waiver scheme

The SPLC this week sued the Trump administration again for approving Kentucky’s Medicaid waiver plan a second time.

Once again, the SPLC brought this challenge 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.

Kentucky’s waiver plan, called “Kentucky HEALTH,” was initially set to take effect on July 1, 2018. But the SPLC and its partners filed their first class action lawsuit, Stewart v. Azar, in June 2018, challenging the 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.

A federal judge blocked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS’) initial approval of the plan in June 2018, stating that the government acted in an “arbitrary and capricious" manner in approving it. The court found that HHS failed to adequately consider whether it would help Kentucky provide Medicaid coverage to its low-income residents.

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg sent the plan back to HHS to reconsider it in accordance with the Medicaid Act.

However, in November 2018, federal health officials announced that they had approved Kentucky’s Medicaid work requirements again, despite evidence that the plan will lead to thousands of hard-working Kentuckians losing access to vital health care coverage.

The SPLC and its partners filed an amended complaint yesterday in the same court, on behalf of more than a dozen Kentucky Medicaid recipients who stand to lose their benefits. They seek to have this new approval also declared to be “arbitrary and capricious.”

 “The Trump administration’s desire to explode Medicaid and transform it into a work program seems to have no limits,” SPLC Deputy Legal Director Samuel Brooke said. “After being declared arbitrary and capricious last year, the administration has now issued a virtually identical re-approval letter; it should face a similar fate and be declared illegal.”

A lawsuit is also pending over Arkansas’ approval of that state’s Medicaid work requirements, which have seen at least 17,000 people losing Medicaid health coverage there.  

“Unfortunately, the experience in Arkansas has shown us that we are right to fear that this added red tape will result in people going without care. This is why we are seeking to block the Kentucky approval before it kicks some 95,000 Kentuckians off of the program,” Brooke said.

“Medicaid was intended to provide health coverage and care to the most vulnerable populations,” he said. “The approval of Kentucky’s work requirement is HHS’ attempt to re-write the Medicaid Act and abuse the administration’s authority under the Constitution. We will not be deterred. We will continue to defend the rights of individuals to access care through Kentucky’s Medicaid program.”

For the Kentucky plaintiffs’ individual stories, see the amended complaint.

Photo by Alamy Stock Photo