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Lawsuit Targets Trump Administration Over Arkansas Medicaid Work Requirement

Michael Hibblen
Governor Asa Hutchinson details proposed changes to Arkansas Medicaid expansion program on March 6, 2017.

Arkansas’s newly-implemented work requirement for recipients of the state’s Medicaid expansion program is the subject of a new federal lawsuit seeking to remove the requirement.

The lawsuit was filed by the National Health Law Program, Legal Aid of Arkansas, and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of three recipients of the state’s expanded Medicaid program, known as Arkansas Works. The suit, filed in United States District Court for the District of Columbia, names U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma as plaintiffs.

Verma represented the Trump administration in March, when she came to Arkansas to announce the approval of the work requirement, which mandates Arkansas Works enrollees to report 80 hours of work or work-related activities per month. 

The lawsuit argues the work requirement essentially bypasses the legislative process, and abuses the authority to "transform" the Medicaid program granted under the Social Security Act. It also alleges the Trump administration’s approval of the requirement is unconstitutional.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said in the past that the requirement is not designed to be punitive, and that numerous exemptions exist for those unable to work. But the three plaintiffs named in the case argue they aren’t eligible for exemptions, yet are not able to meet the 80-hour-per-month threshold.

One plaintiff, 37-year-old Charles Gresham of Harrison, says he is unable to find a job with a flexible schedule to accommodate doctor’s appointments for a seizure disorder. Another, 40-year-old Cesar Ardon of Siloam Springs, argues his work as a self-employed handyman is enough to make a living, but not to meet the state’s requirement.

The third plaintiff, 44-year-old Marisol Ardon, argues she is unable to work due to a myriad of health problems. Ms. Ardon (who is separated from her co-plaintiff husband) also says materials relating to the work requirement, like the online portal used for reporting hours of work to the state Department of Human Services, are overly-complicated.

Though Arkansas was the first state to implement a work requirement for Medicaid recipients, this marks the second lawsuit targeting similar restrictions. A federal lawsuit in Kentucky led a judge to temporarily block the state’s requirement of 20 hours of work per week.

Last month, more than 5000 Arkansas Works enrollees did not report work hours for two consecutive months according to the state Department of Human Services. Arkansans who do not report their hours for three consecutive months lose their coverage under the expanded Medicaid program. More than 7000 recipients failed to report their hours of work to the state in June, with around 400 losing coverage for unrelated reasons.

As of now, Arkansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Indiana have had work requirements for certain Medicaid recipients approved by the Trump administration. An additional seven states have requirements pending approval.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media, a statewide journalism collaboration among public media organizations. Arkansas Public Media reporting is funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK and from members of the public. You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter for Arkansas Public Media.
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