Medicaid Enrollees Sue Arkansas Over Work Rules

By: - August 15, 2018 12:00 am

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, speaks at a news conference with Seema Verma, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, about a state plan to require thousands of Medicaid enrollees to work or volunteer. A new lawsuit could block its implementation. Kelly P. Kissel/The Associated Press

Three Arkansas residents have filed a lawsuit against the state’s new Medicaid work requirement in the same federal appeals court that recently ruled that a similar Kentucky rule violated federal law.

In June, Arkansas became the first state to implement Medicaid work rules for able-bodied adults, a policy favored by Republicans in a handful of states as a condition of receiving newly expanded coverage under the federal-state health insurance program for the poor.

Plaintiffs in the case, represented by advocacy groups the National Health Law Program, Arkansas Legal Aid and the Southern Poverty Law Center, charged the new rules violated the federal Medicaid law and could cause them to lose access to vital health care.

In July, Arkansas announced that as many as 7,000 residents could lose Medicaid coverage for failing to fill out online forms to verify either the number of hours they worked or medical reasons why they should be exempt from the work rule.

“The Arkansas waiver plan has it all backwards. Cutting people’s health care and making them jump through administrative hoops will make it harder for our clients to work and make a better life, not easier,” said Legal Aid of Arkansas attorney Kevin De Liban.

The federal appeals court for the District of Columbia blocked implementation of a similar program in Kentucky in June. But the ruling had no direct effect on Arkansas’ plan, which along with similar requirements in Indiana and New Hampshire, had already received approval from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Another three Medicaid expansion states — Arizona, Ohio and Maine — also are seeking permission to enact work requirements. And in Virginia, lawmakers agreed to expand Medicaid this year with the provision that work would be required for the newly covered adults starting in January.

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Christine Vestal

Christine Vestal covers mental health and drug addiction for Stateline. Previously, she covered health care for McGraw-Hill and the Financial Times.