Kentucky governor rescinds planned Medicaid work requirement

December 16, 2019 GMT

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear on Monday halted his Republican predecessor’s efforts to impose work requirements as a condition for some able-bodied adults to receive Medicaid health coverage, calling his action the “moral, faith-driven thing to do.”

The new Democratic governor signed an executive order rescinding former Gov. Matt Bevin’s plan to require that the affected recipients either work, study, volunteer or perform other “community engagement” activities to qualify for Medicaid coverage. A federal judge blocked the requirements before they took effect, but Bevin’s administration had appealed.

Beshear said his actions will end Kentucky’s involvement in the litigation.

He had pledged during the campaign to reverse Bevin’s so-called Medicaid waiver if elected, and he followed through less than a week after taking office.

His predecessor’s plan would have stripped coverage for about 100,000 Kentuckians, Beshear said.

“My faith teaches me that rescinding this waiver is not only the right thing to do, it is the moral, faith-driven thing to do,” Beshear told reporters. “I believe health care is a basic human right.”

Medicaid is a joint federal and state health care program for poor and disabled people.

By revoking Bevin’s plan, Beshear action also preserves the state’s Medicaid expansion championed by his father, former Gov. Steve Beshear.

Former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law allowed states to expand the program to include adults with no children. In Kentucky, Steve Beshear wielded his executive authority as governor to allow more than 400,000 people to get health benefits, many for the first time.

But that was many more people than state officials had expected, greatly increasing the state’s costs. Bevin had been trying to change the program since he was elected governor in 2015. In January 2018, the Trump administration allowed Kentucky to require some Medicaid recipients to get a job, go to school or volunteer to keep their benefits. The state also planned to impose small monthly premiums from those Medicaid recipients to mimic private insurance plans.

More than a dozen Kentucky residents sued to challenge those rules, which were blocked by a federal judge.

Kristen Arant, among the Kentuckians who received coverage through expanded Medicaid, said Monday that it saved her life, allowing her to receive treatment for her substance abuse disorder. She’s now a college graduate and a social worker.

“Health care is not a luxury,” she said at a statehouse press conference. “It is not a commodity. It is a God-given right. People who do not feel well have the right to feel well.”

Kentucky was among several states where Republicans took steps to impose Medicaid work requirements. Indiana is the only state where Medicaid work requirements are in effect, though officials said recently they would temporarily suspend enforcement until a lawsuit is resolved.

A federal judge has blocked Medicaid work requirements in Arkansas, Kentucky and New Hampshire. And a federal lawsuit challenging Michigan’s plan to implement work requirements was filed last month.

Kentucky’s new governor said Monday that the vast majority of people covered by the bluegrass state″s Medicaid expansion are already working, many of them holding down multiple jobs. They rely on Medicaid because their employers don’t offer private health insurance and their incomes are low enough to qualify.

“The real way that we ultimately move people off of expanded Medicaid is through increasing wages for all Kentuckians,” Beshear said.

He cited a report indicating that Bevin’s waiver project would have cost an estimated $270 million to implement. It would have gutted health care in many rural areas, he said.

“This Medicaid waiver would have cost Kentucky money, lives and jobs,” Beshear said.

In southeastern Kentucky, which suffers from high rates of poverty, many people have known that “where you live determines if you live,” said state Rep. Angie Hatton, who represents a district in the region. Hatton applauded the new governor’s action.

“The kind thing to do is to not be stingy with health care,” she said.

Beshear’s action capped an aggressive first week in office. His previous executive orders reorganized the Kentucky Board of Education and restored voting rights for more than 140,000 non-violent felons who completed their sentences.