A federal judge blocked Kentucky and Arkansas from requiring some Medicaid recipients to work, another setback for a Trump administration policy that other states are seeking to adopt.
In simultaneous rulings, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington decided on Wednesday that work rules in the two states shouldn’t stand. He’d ruled against the requirements in Kentucky once before.
“The secretary’s failure to consider the effects of the project on coverage alone renders his decision arbitrary and capricious,” Boasberg wrote of the Arkansas program’s approval by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar.
The judge based that decision on his own ruling last year faulting Kentucky for having failed to adequately consider whether its program “would in fact help the state furnish medical assistance to its citizens, a central objective of Medicaid.”
HHS, for its part, failed to remedy the defects that previously prompted him to block the Kentucky program, Boasberg said. The states required approval by HHS to put their programs in place.
The court “cannot concur that the Medicaid Act leaves the secretary so unconstrained, nor that the states are so armed to refashion the program Congress designed in any way they choose,” he said, and remanded the program to the federal agency for further review.
Boasberg was appointed to serve as federal judge by former President Barack Obama.
“We will continue to defend our efforts to give states greater flexibility to help low-income Americans rise out of poverty,” Seema Verma, administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in an emailed statement.
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, who is seeking to unseat incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, promised to rescind the directive if he wins and in a statement hailed the “decision to overturn Matt Bevin’s callous waiver.” A representative of the governor couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Adam Meier, secretary of Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, the state’s health care and human services agency, disagreed, calling the judge’s decision illogical.
“Although a setback to our implementation schedule, we believe that we have an excellent record for appeal and are currently considering next steps,” Meier said in a statement.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, also criticized the ruling, saying she’s disappointed and reviewing decision to decide what to do next.