Kentucky governor loses another round in Medicaid fight

Posted at 1:44 PM, Aug 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-20 19:09:24-04

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's Republican governor lost another round Monday in a legal fight over his efforts to revamp the state's Medicaid program to require poor people to get a job to keep their benefits.

The latest setback for Gov. Matt Bevin came in his home state when a federal judge dismissed his lawsuit that sought a ruling validating the Medicaid changes.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove sided with a group of Medicaid recipients who were named as defendants in Bevin's lawsuit. The judge signaled that the legality of Bevin's Medicaid plan would be sorted out in a separate case in Washington, D.C.

"Not all disputes are capable of federal judicial review," the judge said in his dismissal order. "Federal courts are limited in their jurisdiction, and they can only hear cases where the plaintiff can establish jurisdiction. Here, the commonwealth failed to do so."

Medicaid is the joint state and federal health insurance program for poor and disabled people.

Bevin spokeswoman Elizabeth Kuhn said the lawsuit was dismissed on "procedural grounds" that did not address the substance of the case. The lawsuit was filed because Bevin's administration believes Kentuckians deserve to have the Medicaid changes "considered in Kentucky by a Kentucky judge," she said in a statement.

Bevin's administration will continue to pursue the other Medicaid case in Washington, D.C., she said.

A Kentucky public health advocate opposed to the Bevin administration's Medicaid overhaul said the governor's court action "was never a legitimate lawsuit to begin with."

"For a governor to sue his own constituents who are Medicaid recipients and feel threatened that their coverage is going to be taken from them ... is just really unbelievable," said Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health. "This was the right decision to dismiss the lawsuit."

The 16 Kentuckians named as defendants in Bevin's suit were also involved in the separate legal action in Washington, D.C., challenging the Medicaid changes.

The state's Democratic attorney general, Andy Beshear, who is running for governor in 2019, said in a statement that the governor's attempt to "strip health care away from some of Kentucky's most vulnerable is not only immoral but also unlawful." Bevin has not said if he will run for re-election.

Arkansas was the first state to implement a Medicaid work requirement after President Donald Trump's administration said it would allow states to require participants to work to keep coverage. Three people on Arkansas' expanded Medicaid program have sued seeking to block the rule.

Kentucky had been the first state to win government approval for a work requirement, but a federal judge in Washington blocked the state from enforcing it in a late June ruling, shortly before the new rules were scheduled to take effect in a northern Kentucky suburb of Cincinnati.

In that case, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg said the Trump administration never adequately considered whether the changes would comply with the central tenet of Medicaid: Providing health care for its citizens.

Boasberg ordered that the approval of the Kentucky project be vacated and sent it back to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services so the process could be restarted.

Van Tatenhove referred to that case in his ruling. That case allows Bevin's administration to "protect its interests" in seeking to implement the Medicaid changes, the judge said.

President Barack Obama's health care law gave states the option of expanding Medicaid coverage to able-bodied adults. Kentucky was among states that did so, when Beshear's father, Democrat Steve Beshear, was governor.

Bevin, elected in 2015, has said the program was too expensive to continue. His administration's new Medicaid rules would charge monthly premiums and require at least 80 hours of "community engagement" per month, which could include working, volunteering or going to school.