Kentucky Medicaid lawsuit draws national attention

Posted at 5:27 PM, Jan 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-26 18:56:30-05

Fifteen Kentuckians have filed suit against the federal governmentin response to a law that requires Medicaid recipients to work or volunteer 80 hours a month in order to qualify.

Kentucky is the first state to require a work requirement for Medicaid recipients, so what happens in the courtroom could set precedent for the country.

Cara Stewart, Health Law Fellow with Kentucky Equal Justice Center, said she thinks the suit represents a certain demograhic of people across the country. 

“So Kentucky is the first place to protect against that, so I definitely feel like we’re representing low income people all across the country at the same time," Stewart said. 

The National Health Law Program, along with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center, filed the suit in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. 

The suit charges that the approval of Kentucky's waiver -- which also requires many Medicaid recipients to pay premiums and locks them out of the program for up to six months if they violate certain rules -- runs counter to Medicaid's objective of providing the poor with access to health care. 

The 79-page complaint was filed on behalf of Kentucky residents who are on Medicaid and would be harmed by the state's new rules, according to the advocates. 

Medicaid recipients like Pauline Creech are anxiously awaiting a verdict. 

Creech has leukemia, and she said the thought of not being able to comply with the program’s requirements is “scary.” 

“The one medicine I was on was $2,985 a month was my first chemo medicine, and I got a funny feeling this is more. There’s no way I could afford that,” Creech said. 

The lawsuit challenges the work requirements, saying the Trump administration doesn't have the authority to change the state’s Medicaid laws. 

But Gov. Matt Bevin says the work requirement is legally sound.

“Kentucky now has an opportunity to prove to our citizens and to those in other states that the waiver will work and that all of Kentucky and America will be better for it,” Bevin said. 

The country is watching. At least 10 states have applied to add work requirements and others have expressed interest.

The Department of Health and Family Services, who is also named in the suit, said they will not comment on pending litigation.