Lawsuit seeks to stop Medicaid work requirements

Medicaid patient: 'I miss working'
Medicaid patient: 'I miss working'

That didn't take long.

Three consumer advocacy groups are suing the Trump administration seeking to stop it from allowing states for the first time to impose work requirements on certain Medicaid recipients.

The National Health Law Program, along with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center, filed the suit in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. The move comes less than two weeks after the Trump administration released guidelines for states to add work requirements to Medicaid and then granted Kentucky permission to do just that.

The suit charges that the approval of Kentucky's waiver -- which also requires many Medicaid recipients to pay premiums and locks them out of the program for up to six months if they violate certain rules -- runs counter to Medicaid's objective of providing the poor with access to health care. The work requirement, which can also be fulfilled through volunteering, going to job training and participating in other activities, applies to working age, non-disabled adults.

The 79-page complaint was filed on behalf of 15 Kentucky residents who are on Medicaid and would be harmed by the state's new rules, according to the advocates. It cites a 62-year-old man who suffers from diabetes, arthritis and high-blood pressure and is unlikely to be able to comply with the work requirement or purchase coverage on his own. "Without Medicaid going forward, his health would be in jeopardy," the groups say.

Related: Kentucky is first state ever to require Medicaid recipients to work

Republicans have long wanted to add work requirements to Medicaid, and Congress tried to do so in its unsuccessful attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year. The Trump administration took matters into its own hands, encouraging states to file waivers that would transform the safety net program. At least nine states are waiting for approval to add work mandates and other provisions, and several governors have recently said that they will make similar requests.

By doing this, the administration has "effectively rewritten the statute, bypassing congressional restrictions, overturning a half century of administrative practice, and threatening irreparable harm to the health and welfare of the poorest and most vulnerable in our country," the complaint reads.

A spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services declined to comment. The agency's administrator, Seema Verma, has said that work requirements will help recipients gain independence.

Related: Trump administration allows states to make Medicaid recipients work

Medicaid covers nearly 75 million low-income children, adults, elderly and disabled Americans. The broadening of Medicaid to low-income adults under Obamacare -- roughly 11 million have qualified for coverage under the health reform law's Medicaid expansion provision -- further spurred GOP efforts to add work mandates.

The Obama administration did not approve any state waivers that would impose work requirements, saying it was not in keeping with the program's mission. Consumer advocates and health policy experts fear that such a requirement could prove a big hurdle for many recipients, leaving them without the care they need.

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