Three Arkansas residents with Medicaid health insurance are suing the Trump administration for approving an 80-hours-a-month work requirement, as the policy jeopardizes their coverage and livelihood.
This is the second lawsuit filed in federal court against the Trump administration’s work requirements. The first was against Kentucky’s, and plaintiffs scored a victory there when a federal judge temporarily blocked the 20-hours-a-week work requirement in June.
Arkansas’ work requirements took effect earlier that month — the first state to do so in the country. State officials will drop residents from Medicaid rolls if they don’t comply for three consecutive months, meaning people could lose coverage as early as September.
Tuesday’s lawsuit offers residents a chance to maintain health coverage. Already, more than 7,000 Arkansas residents have failed to report work or other volunteer opportunities online in June to meet the requirement, putting them at risk of losing their coverage.
The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday by the National Health Law Program (NHeLP), Legal Aid of Arkansas, and Southern Poverty Law Center in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Plaintiffs are suing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and senior officials who approved and implemented the Arkansas waiver. The state of Arkansas is not being sued.
“This lawsuit is the continuation of our work, with our state and national partners, to stop the Trump administration’s attempt to transform Medicaid from a health insurance program to a work program—and along the way, to end coverage of medically necessary care for thousands of low-income people,” said National Health Law Program Legal Director Jane Perkins in a statement.
The lawsuit seeks to declare the Arkansas waiver — which also eliminates retroactive coverage — illegal and block continued implementation. Plaintiffs say it violates the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the U.S. Constitution.
The three Medicaid beneficiaries who are suing the Trump administration are Charles Gresham, Cesar Ardon, and Marisol Ardon — and they have chronic conditions and therefore heavily depend on continuous Medicaid coverage.
Medicaid is public insurance largely for people who are low-income, elderly, or disabled. Most people on Medicaid that can work do so already. Work requirements are viewed by advocates as a way for conservatives to boot people off public assistance.
37-year-old Charles Gresham suffers from a seizure disorder, an anxiety condition, and asthma, and has limited work options because he does not have his own means of transportation and his seizure disorder makes it even more difficult.
Medicaid beneficiaries can only apply for exceptions to the new requirements online, but 44-year-old Marisol Ardon found the online portal confusing and difficult. Ardon has a hernia in her stomach, thyroid problems, asthma, anxiety attacks, and chronic back pain. Because of this, she hasn’t worked since about March 2017. Still, officials say she is not exempt and needs to meet the work requirement. Seeing as she’s unable to work, she’ll likely lose coverage.
The Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) estimates that more than 93,000 beneficiaries will be subject to the work requirement in 2018, and that 55 percent of current beneficiaries will be exempt. So far, the upfront cost of the work requirement for 2018 is nearly $800,000, and the system changes for the waiver cost nearly $7,000,000.
The requirement is currently being enforced on residents who are ages 30 to 49 years old and will expand to include those 19 to 29 years old next year. Of the residents subject to the requirement, only 445 satisfied the reporting requirement last month. The rest either failed to or were effectively exempt.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg blocked Kentucky’s slew of Medicaid changes in June, calling them “arbitrary and capricious” and concluding that officials didn’t think through the amount of people who could lose coverage. The lawsuit — also brought by NHeLP and the Southern Poverty Laws Center — was filed in United States District Court for the District of Columbia, despite Kentucky’s best attempt to move the lawsuit to a Kentucky federal courthouse.
This post has been updated to add a new quote from National Health Law Program Legal Director Jane Perkins.