Trump administration sued over Arkansas’ Medicaid work requirements

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Advocacy groups on Tuesday filed a lawsuit challenging the decision by President Donald Trump’s administration to allow Arkansas to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients in the state.

The lawsuit, filed against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in federal court in Washington on behalf of three Medicaid recipients in the state, claims that the federal Medicaid law does not allow the administration to approve work requirements.

The case, filed by lawyers at the National Health Law Program Legal Aid of Arkansas and Southern Poverty Law Center, is similar to an earlier challenge to a work requirement program in Kentucky, which a judge has halted.

“This lawsuit has one goal, which is to undermine our efforts to bring Arkansans back into the workforce, increase worker training, and to offer improved economic prospects for those who desire to be less dependent on the government,” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said in a statement.

He said it was necessary to have “an accountable system that does not leave thousands of able-bodied recipients on the Medicaid rolls.”

HHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In June, Arkansas became the first U.S. state to require that many able-bodied Medicaid recipients do some combination of work, volunteer, job training or schooling for a minimum of 80 hours each month to keep their benefits, a sweeping shift in healthcare rules. Those who fail to meet the work requirements for any three months will be locked out of health insurance for the remainder of the year.

Republican governors and lawmakers say work requirements are needed to control Medicaid costs. In Arkansas, the requirements will apply to people who became eligible for the program when it was expanded under former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

During the first phase of Arkansas’ program, able-bodied adults aged 30 to 49 who earn less than $680 a month will have to submit documents each month showing they have worked or volunteered. State officials have estimated that up to 30,000-40,000 people in the first phase will have to find work to maintain their benefits. In 2019, the program will extend to adults aged 19 to 29.

Indiana and New Hampshire have also won approval for their own work requirement programs, which have not yet taken effect. Another eight states await approval from the Trump administration for similar work requirements that will fundamentally reconfigure the 50-year-old program.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)