By Greg Bird
A Federal Judge in Washington, D.C. has ruled Governor Matt Bevin’s Kentucky HEALTH plan, which would require some participants to work or volunteer to receive benefits, violates federal law.
Set to take effect this past weekend, the ruling puts a halt to implementation of the plan and sends it back to the federal government for further review.
United States District Judge James E. Boasberg issued a 60-page opinion stating the plan conflicts with the federal Medicaid law, which was established to provide coverage for low-income citizens.
Kentucky was the first state to gain approval from the Trump administration to require work for some participants in the Medicaid program. Since January 10 additional states have either passed laws similar to Kentucky, or have begun the process to install work requirements into their programs.
Judge Boasberg’s ruling could affect all those state’s plans, and the results in Kentucky are being watched with interest.
Bevin’s Kentucky HEALTH plan called for an 80-hour a month “community engagement” from recipients, which could be satisfied by work, school or volunteer activities.
The ruling came after 16 Kentuckians filed a challenge to the plan, claiming they would be harmed by the changes.
The change was scheduled to start in one northern Kentucky county Sunday, and eventually roll out to all counties by the end of the year.
Adam Meier, secretary for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said his department, along with the Governor’s Office will begin work immediately with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to find a solution to the issue raised by the Judge.
“While we disagree with the Court’s ruling, we look forward to working with CMS to quickly resolve the single issue raised by the court so we can move forward with Kentucky Health.”
Meier had previously stated if the changes were not approved Kentucky would have to make benefit reductions to Medicaid.
Some of those changes have already begun as nearly 460,000 people have lost access to dental and vision coverage through the “My Rewards” program. The CHFS issued a statement claiming the blockage of the Kentucky HEALTH program by the court has invalidated the rewards program as there is no mechanism in place to pay for the additional coverage.
Governor Bevin had issued an executive order to end Medicaid expansion in Kentucky in the event of any part of his plan was blocked in court. The expansion has added approximately 400,000 citizens to the Medicaid program since it began under previous Governor Steve Beshear. Those additions are citizens just above the poverty line as allowed by the Affordable Care Act.
Criticisms of the plan include increasing premiums and extra tasks to verify the work requirements. Failure to make a monthly payment or a check-in to report work status could trigger a six-month lock out on basic health coverage.
The federal ruling comes before a similar case can be heard in Kentucky. Governor Bevin is suing those same individuals who filed the federal suit in January, in U.S. District Court in Frankfort. Bevin’s action is an attempt to uphold the HEALTH plan.