Ruling creates uncertainty for states' Medicaid work rules
By ANDREW DeMILLO
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The governor whose state is at the center of the fight over work requirements for Medicaid recipients said Thursday he wants to fight a judge's ruling blocking those rules, while Republicans elsewhere are trying to determine the decision's effect on their state.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson urged the federal government to appeal the ruling against his state's requirement that certain people covered by its Medicaid expansion work or lose their coverage. A day earlier, a federal judge in Washington blocked work requirements in Arkansas and Kentucky.
Hutchinson said he wants the Legislature to maintain Arkansas' Medicaid expansion program, which covers 235,000 low-income residents. The Republican governor said defunding it would mean giving up the fight over the work requirement.
"I remain fully committed to a work requirement, and we are in this for the long haul because we believe this is the right policy for Arkansans who want to work and need training and more opportunity," the governor said during a news conference at the state Capitol.
Arkansas was the first state to enforce a Medicaid work requirement. Similar rules are in effect in Indiana and New Hampshire.
Arizona, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin have had their work requirements approved by the federal government, but they are not yet implemented. Several other states have requests pending with the Trump administration.
Expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income adults was a key pillar of former President Barack Obama's health care reforms. It's responsible for adding some 12 million people to the Medicaid rolls in the 37 states that accepted the expansion.
Many Republicans have argued for work requirements and other provisions, such as modest premiums, as a condition for agreeing to it.
In Kentucky, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has threatened to end his state's Medicaid expansion if work requirements are ultimately struck down. It was adopted under his Democratic predecessor and provides coverage for 400,000 people.
Bevin said Medicaid was intended to provide health coverage for the medically frail, the elderly and the disabled, and is skeptical of offering it with no strings attached to able-bodied, working-age adults who have no dependents. Under the rules in Kentucky and Arkansas, recipients also can fulfill the requirements if they volunteer or continue their education.
"The day of the free lunch is over," Bevin said.
Indiana officials said they planned to move forward with their work requirements despite the ruling. Beneficiaries there won't have to begin reporting hours worked until July, and next January is the earliest that any recipient could have coverage suspended for not complying. New Hampshire's requirement, which took effect this month, also is being challenged in court.
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