Lawsuit filed over Arkansas Medicaid work requirement

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Three people on Arkansas’ expanded Medicaid program sued the Trump administration on Tuesday seeking to block a newly implemented rule in the state that would drop coverage for them and thousands of others if they don’t work 80 hours a month.

The federal lawsuit filed in Washington by three advocacy groups on behalf of the residents is the second challenging work requirements the Trump administration has allowed states to impose on Medicaid. It accuses the administration of violating federal law and the U.S. Constitution by approving the new rule, which Arkansas began enforcing in June.

The state said Tuesday more than 5,400 people in the program didn’t meet a requirement that they report at least 80 hours of work each month in June and July and will lose coverage if they don’t meet the requirement this month.

“This (requirement) will harm Arkansans across the state who need a range of health services, including check-ups, diabetes treatment, mental health services, non-emergency medical transportation, and vision and dental care,” the groups said in the lawsuit. “The letter and approval of Arkansas’ application are unauthorized attempts to re-write the Medicaid Act, and the use of the Social Security Act’s waiver authority to ‘transform’ Medicaid is an abuse of that authority.”

Arkansas was the first state to implement a Medicaid work requirement after the Trump administration said it would allow states to require participants to work to keep coverage. Kentucky was the first state to win approval for a work requirement, but a federal judge in June blocked the state from enforcing it. Arkansas’ requirement only applies to its Medicaid expansion, which uses federal and state funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, has promoted the requirement as a way to move more people onto the workforce and eventually off of the government-funded coverage. Hutchinson defended the requirement on Tuesday, and said the state is providing “substantial” assistance to people on the program who have trouble reporting because of limited access to the internet.

“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,” Hutchinson said in a statement.

Two of the groups involved in the lawsuit over Arkansas’ requirement — the National Health Law Program and the Southern Poverty Law Center — sued over Kentucky’s requirement. Legal Aid of Arkansas is also suing on behalf of the three residents, each of whom has been unable to meet the work requirement for at least one month.

“Arkansas Works gives a person in my situation the ability to continue with my care to resolve whatever health issues I have. Without the program, my health can only get worse,” Charles Gresham, a plaintiff in the suit, said in a statement. Gresham, 37, has been on the expanded Medicaid program since 2015 but has been unable to find and keep a job because of a seizure disorder.

Participants in Arkansas’ program lose coverage if they don’t meet the work requirement for three months in a calendar year. Arkansas officials said more than 46,000 of the roughly 270,000 people on its Medicaid expansion were subject to the work requirement in July. Once fully implemented, Arkansas’ requirement will affect able-bodied enrollees on the program with no children aged 19 to 49 years old. The requirement is being enforced on participants ages 30 to 49 this year and will expand to include those 19 to 29 years old next year.