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Health Care Montana Legislature Montana Politics

Judge Declares Medicaid Work Requirements Illegal as GOP Legislature Rushes Forward

Yesterday, as Republicans in Montana rush to push through a work requirement bill in the legislature, a federal judge struck down Medicaid work requirement laws in Kentucky and Arkansas. The judge ruled that such requirements are designed to take health coverage away from people, which is counter to Medicaid’s fundamental purpose to provide health coverage to people who wouldn’t otherwise have it.

Judge Boasberg said that the approval of work requirements by the Department of Health and Human Services:

“Is arbitrary and capricious because it did not address … how the project would implicate the ‘core’ objective of Medicaid: the provision of medical coverage to the needy.”

This is the second time the Trump Administration has made attempts to justify taking coverage away from people who don’t meet a work requirement or pay premiums, and for the second time, Trump lost.

The response of the GOP-controlled Idaho legislature was immediate. They killed the work requirement bill and began working on a voluntary program modeled after Montana’s successful HELP-Link program.

The ruling sets a legal precedent so that if a lawsuit is filed in Montana, work requirements are likely to be struck down here too.

Here in Montana HB 658, the GOP work requirement bill, was amended in committee, but still bears striking similarity to programs in Virginia and Arkansas.  Like Arkansas, the state is directed to use data matching to try to exempt certain people, and the exemption list is similar to what the state of Virginia put in place.

Like in Arkansas, people who the state can’t find data to prove an exemption will have to report work hours of 80 work each month or be locked out of coverage for 6 months.  Montana’s law also includes much higher premiums than other states, and HB 658 doubles those premiums over time.

Medicaid is about health care for those in need, and states and federal officials cannot create red tape that makes it harder for people to see their doctor.  Medicaid work requirements are punitive, impose heavy-handed new bureaucracy, and will be especially harmful in rural areas, as the Washington Post explains in its profile of a small town in Arkansas that is struggling with a policy that makes little sense.

It doesn’t make sense for Montana to rush this into state law provisions that have already been found to be illegal in two other states.

Montanans believe in the value of work. If we truly want to encourage work, we need to stop efforts to take away health insurance from people who need it and look at policies that improve our economy, provide more jobs at a livable wage, and help train people for those jobs. And it’s important to note that the majority of Medicaid enrollees who can work are already working.

House Bill 658 is designed to make it harder for 96,000 low-income Montanans to keep coverage, and unfortunately, it is likely to succeed, no matter how much Montana lawmakers echo the same assurances lawmakers in Arkansas made about their work requirement law.

Here is the judge’s opinion in the Arkansas case: https://www.arktimes.com/media/pdf/gresham_order.pdf

Here is the judge’s opinion in the Kentucky case: https://www.arktimes.com/media/pdf/stewart_-_doc_132.pdf

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Nathan Kosted

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