Federal court rules against Trump administration’s work requirements for Medicaid

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that the Trump administration’s move to permit states to condition Medicaid eligibility on recipients meeting proof-of-work requirements violated federal law.

A unanimous three-judge panel from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. upheld a lower court ruling siding with residents in Kentucky and Arkansas that challenged the policy, finding the Health and Human Services Department violated the Administrative Procedure Act in the implementation of the policy.

Medicaid health care coverage was originally provided to the elderly, needy families with children and the disabled, including the blind. But in 2010, Congress expanded the program to low-income adults that didn’t fit the previous categories.

Arkansas and Kentucky both created programs to require certain work thresholds to be met in order to qualify for coverage, which was approved by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

One of the requirements the court noted received the most attention was for Medicaid recipients between 19 and 49, requiring them to “work or engage in specified educational, job training, or job search activities for at least 80 hours per month.” They would have to record the activities.

However, the government would exempt certain beneficiaries who could show an inability to qualify due to circumstances including illness, caring for a child, or being a full-time student.

The federal appeals court reasoned Congress did not amend Medicaid to require proof of work while considering two other welfare programs that did mandate the work standards.

“We agree with the district court that the alternative objectives of better health outcomes and beneficiary independence are not consistent with Medicaid,” the court ruled in its 19-page opinion, authored by Judge David B. Sentelle, a Reagan appointee.

“The text of the statute includes one primary purpose, which is providing health care coverage without any restriction geared to healthy outcomes, financial independence or transition to commercial coverage,” the court added.

Judge Cornelia Pillard, an Obama appointee, and Judge Harry T. Edwards, a Carter appointee, joined the ruling.

Ian Heath Gershengorn, who argued the case against the administration said he was pleased with the ruling.

“It makes it clear that the administration cannot simply ignore the devastating real-world consequences of its policies,” he said. “This is a victory for thousands of Americans who can now continue to have access to health coverage and health care.”

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