Advocacy groups are mounting a new challenge to the Trump administration’s effort to limit health benefits for the poor by letting states impose work requirements.
The suit, filed in federal district court for the District of Columbia Tuesday, seeks to block the U.S. Health and Human Services Department from allowing Arkansas to kick people off Medicaid if they’re not employed or looking for work. It builds on an earlier effort by advocates for the poor to halt a similar requirement in Kentucky’s Medicaid program.
The suit was filed by Legal Aid of Arkansas, National Health Law Program and the Southern Poverty Law Center, on behalf of three Arkansas Medicaid beneficiaries. It accuses the federal officials who approved the state’s work requirement of unauthorized attempts to rewrite the U.S. Medicaid Act, saying the change “will harm Arkansans across the state who need a range of health services.”
Amy Webb, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, said the agency had not yet seen the lawsuit and had no immediate comment. A spokeswoman for HHS said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
The Trump administration cleared the way earlier this year for states to require some Medicaid recipients to prove they’re working, volunteering or training for a job in order to maintain coverage. The Obama administration had opposed such requirements as contrary to the purpose of the 53-year-old health program.
In June, Arkansas became the first state where Medicaid work requirements took effect. People who don’t document the required 80 hours per month for three months can be terminated from the program. The requirement initially applies only to people age 30 to 49, with exemptions for various categories, including those who are pregnant, frail or in drug treatment. Starting in 2019, younger adults age 19 to 29 would be required to work as well.