FRANKFORT, Ky. – On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C., will hear oral arguments in a case concerning Gov. Matt Bevin’s changes to Kentucky’s Medicaid program, known as Kentucky HEALTH.
Earlier this year, a federal judge blocked the new rules, which would have required Medicaid recipients to work or volunteer for 80 hours a month in order to receive health coverage.
Betsy Stone, a health law fellow at the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, says the state of Arkansas instituted similar work requirements, and thousands of otherwise eligible people lost access to health care.
“Studies across the board show that people who receive health care and can work, do,” she stresses. “They just got lost in an extra layer of bureaucracy that the state was paying to put into place, that really wasn’t accomplishing what it was supposed to be doing.”
The Kentucky Equal Justice Center, along with the Southern Poverty Law Center and others, are representing a group of low-income individuals challenging the Medicaid restrictions.
Stone adds that while the Department of Justice has asked for an expedited decision in these cases, the ruling could take weeks or months to be released.
Robin Ritter, who lives in Shelby County, is currently unemployed and has a host of medical conditions, including seizures and back problems. Her husband is disabled and she has a special needs daughter.
Ritter and her family rely on Medicaid for health coverage.
Last summer, Ritter received a letter from the state’s Medicaid agency, informing her that to maintain health coverage, she would have to pay an $8 premium and work a minimum of 80 hours a month.
“Fear came over me because if I have to work or if I have to volunteer, then it’s going to put us in a major hardship because then I’m going to have to pay someone, somehow, to sit with my husband and my daughter,” she states.
Stone says after oral arguments are heard on Friday, the court has three options.
“It could affirm the lower court’s decision, so it can say the lower court was right and this program isn’t going to work,” she states. “It could reverse the lower court’s decision and say the lower court was wrong, here’s why, or alternatively it could remand the lower court and say, maybe, ‘We disagree with a part of your decision and here’s what we think that you should do next.'”
More than 1.2 million people in the Commonwealth receive their health insurance through Medicaid