Health Advocates Urge Federal Court to Reverse Trump’s Approval of Medicaid Transformation in Kentucky

Health Advocates Urge Federal Court to Reverse Trump’s Approval of Medicaid Transformation in Kentucky

National Health Law Program, Kentucky Equal Justice Center and Southern Poverty Law Center Ask Court to Vacate Approval of KY’s Onerous Changes to Medicaid

Washington – Representing Kentuckians enrolled in Medicaid, the National Health Law Program, Kentucky Equal Justice Center (KEJC), and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) today urged a federal judge to block the Medicaid waiver scheme because it violates the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ authority under the Social Security Act.

The law firm Jenner & Block is counsel to the National Health Law Program in the case, Stewart v. Azar.

In the Stewart oral argument, Ian Gershengorn, partner with Jenner & Block, argued that the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services violated federal law when it approved the waiver request from Kentucky health officials. Gershengorn urged the court to vacate the approval because it will directly harm the plaintiffs in this case, as well as similarly situated Kentuckians, by jeopardizing their access to health care.

“The Kentucky waiver project, with its burdensome work requirements, premiums, and lock-out penalties, is an effort by Kentucky and HHS to transform the Medicaid program,” said Gershengorn, also a member of the National Health Law Program Board. “The law that the administration is operating under requires these waivers to further the purpose of the Medicaid Act, which is to furnish medical assistance. The waivers here do exactly the opposite – they restrict coverage and impede access to needed care. Unlike some other public assistance programs, Medicaid is not a jobs-training program, and the administration does not have the authority to turn it into one. The rule of law requires that the president adhere to and uphold federal law, not subvert it.”

National Health Law Program Legal Director Jane Perkins noted, “The statute also only allows the federal government to approve experimental projects designed to improve the administration of Medicaid. The restrictive policies approved in the Kentucky waiver have been previously tested in other public benefits programs, and consistently found to result in people losing eligibility and coverage. By the government’s own estimates, if allowed to stand, the approval will cause at least 100,000 Kentuckians to lose coverage. Health researchers estimate that the losses will be much higher.”

KEJC Senior Attorney Anne Marie Regan said, “Kentucky expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in 2014. Since then, the percentage of uninsured Kentuckians has gone from being one of the highest in the country to one of the lowest. We see our clients and low-income people all across the Commonwealth finally getting the preventive services and medical treatment they need. Medicaid coverage enables people to work. This approval got it exactly backwards by conditioning health coverage on work.”

Southern Poverty Law Center Deputy Legal Director Samuel Brooke said, “HHS failed to assess the impact of the waiver on low-income people. Many people enrolled in Medicaid are struggling to make it in low-wage jobs. Under this waiver, many of them will be forced off Medicaid, and will likely be unable to afford private health coverage. The Trump administration’s approval of this waiver was a critical misstep that should not be allowed to stand.”

Plaintiff Ronnie Stewart, 62, lives alone in Lexington, Kentucky. Before retiring from full time work, Mr. Stewart worked in the health care field in clinics and hospital settings. He is now unable to stay on his feet all day because of diabetes, arthritis, and high blood pressure, but under the waiver, he is expected to keep working until he is 64. Medicaid enables him to obtain treatment for these conditions, but that access to health care is now in jeopardy.

“Donald Trump made promises to protect Medicaid when he was campaigning, but as president, he is not doing that,” Stewart said. “I’m not alone in this predicament. There are many Kentuckians in the same boat, and we need the judge to reverse this harmful attack on Medicaid. We need to start promoting the common good by supporting Medicaid and other programs that benefit low-income and working Americans, rather than catering to special interests.”

For more comment on today’s oral argument from the attorneys, please contact: Jeremy Leaming, National Health Law Program, 301.233.0867, leaming@healthlaw.org; Anne Marie Regan, KEJC, 502.468.9403, amregan@kyequaljustice.org; or Jen Fuson, SPLC,202.834.6209, jen.fuson@splcenter.org.

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