A group of Kentuckians is again suing the federal government over the re-approval of Gov. Matt Bevin’s changes to the Medicaid program.
Twelve Kentuckians, represented by the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and National Health Law Program, filed the suit Monday. It will be heard by the same judge who ruled against the federal government last summer.
A federal judge in June struck down Bevin’s plan to put in place “community engagement” requirements for Medicaid coverage that were set to go into effect in some parts of the state last year. After that ruling, the federal government re-examined its approval of the original changes, and then re-approved them in November. Kentucky plans to roll out the changes one region at a time starting in April.
In a written statement announcing the latest lawsuit, Southern Poverty Law Center Legal Director Samuel Brooke said the current re-approval could again be struck down.
“After being declared arbitrary and capricious last year, the administration has now issued a virtually identical re-approval letter,” Brooke wrote.
Between 86,000 and 136,000 Kentuckians could lose their Medicaid health insurance after the state rolls out changes to the program, according to an analysis from The George Washington University. That estimate comes from applying data on coverage losses in Arkansas to Kentucky.
Arkansas implemented similar community engagement requirements last year. And in December, Arkansas officials reported around 17,000 people had lost their Medicaid coverage in the first six months after the implementation of a new 80-hour a month work/volunteer/training requirement.
The analysis predicts a greater number of people in Kentucky could lose coverage because the state’s community engagement requirement is a bit more strict than Arkansas’. In 2016, Kentucky officials estimated that 95,000 Kentuckians over five years would no longer have Medicaid coverage as a result of the changes. But the GW analysis estimates that the losses in Kentucky will happen within the first year of implementation.
“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,” Brooke wrote. “The approval of Kentucky’s work requirement is HHS’s attempt to rewrite the Medicaid Act and abuse the Administration’s authority under the Constitution.”
In a written statement Tuesday, Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Adam Meier said Kentucky is continuing with plans to roll out the changes in April.
“The cabinet is not surprised by the refiling and will continue to work toward implementation of the Kentucky HEALTH waiver. Kentuckians, and specifically our Medicaid members, deserve a Medicaid program that will improve health outcomes and provide paths for employability, long-term stability, and future success while also ensuring the long-term sustainability of Medicaid for those who need it most.
Previously, Meier cautioned comparing Arkansas’ experience to what might happen in Kentucky.
“We’re in a little different situation than Arkansas. We’ve been planning in Kentucky for several years now how to operationalize this,” Meier said in November. “And we’ve built an ecosystem from all the health and human services programs, the employment and training programs, partnering with them so that we can have a more efficient administration of these services.”
This story has been updated.