Kentucky Medicaid Recipients Sue HHS Over Work Requirements

Kentucky residents have filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for approving a waiver to add work requirements to the state's Medicaid program.

Kentucky became the first state to receive approval from the Trump administration to implement work requirements into the state Medicaid program, and now that action has resulted in a lawsuit.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the National Health Law Program, and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center are representing 15 Kentucky residents who filed a class-action lawsuit against HHS. The plaintiffs include a minister, a church administrator, a mechanic, a musician, a retired healthcare worker, and students, caregivers, house cleaners, a bank teller, and housekeepers for a healthcare center and a university.

The plaintiffs are all currently enrolled in Medicaid, and they are challenging the Trump administration’s approval of the Section 1115 waiver, through which the state sought to modify its Medicaid expansion program.

“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.

The lawsuit also claims that Acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan’s letter to state Medicaid directors regarding adding work requirements to the program and the subsequent approval of Kentucky’s waiver “vastly exceed any lawful exercise of the Secretary’s limited waiver authority.”

Through the waiver, Kentucky is launching a 5-year demonstration project that requires able-bodied adults to work or volunteer in order to receive their Medicaid benefits. Kentucky HEALTH was first proposed in 2016, but it was not approved during the Obama administration.

“Federal approval of Kentucky HEALTH is a significant milestone on our journey to lead the nation in transforming Medicaid in a fiscally responsible way,” Kentucky’s Republican Governor Matt Bevin said in a statement.

After the waiver to add work requirements was approved Bevin signed an executive order that protected the work requirement. The order stated that if a lawsuit was brought against the work requirement waiver and a judgment made in favor of the plaintiffs, that the state would “take the necessary actions to terminate Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion program,” within 6 months after all appeals have been exhausted or waived.

The extermination of Medicaid expansion would cause hundreds of thousands of Medicaid beneficiaries to lose their coverage.

“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 in a statement. “We will not be intimidated. We will defend the rights of individuals to enroll in Kentucky’s Medicaid program.”