Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin‘s quixotic efforts to snatch health insurance away from poor Kentuckians was dealt another setback today when a federal judge in Frankfort, Ky., tossed out the governor’s lawsuit against sixteen low-income Kentuckians.
Back in June, a different federal district court, in Washington D.C., struck down the work requirement imposed on Medicaid expansion beneficiaries in the state. Bevin attempted to countersue the plaintiffs, complaining that their interference was a threat to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Today, he was essentially laughed out of court.
In response to the ruling against work requirements last June, Bevin has threatened to take his ball and go home. Unless he is able to alter the rules to pass muster with the court, or prevail on appeal, he claims that he will end the Medicaid expansion altogether, taking away health insurance from more than 400,000 Kentuckians because he didn’t get his way.
Observers in Arkansas, where Governor Hutchinson also imposed work requirements on certain Medicaid expansion beneficiaries, have been watching closely. A federal lawsuit challenging the requirement in Arkansas was filed last week. Some Arkansas Republican lawmakers, such as Rep. Bob Ballinger, have made the same threat that Bevin made: If the lawsuit prevails, they claim, they’ll kill the Medicaid expansion. This is quite a position. Imposing monthly tedious paperwork requirements on poor people is more important to Bevin, Ballinger, and company than making sure they have their health care needs met.
The ruling today means that Bevin isn’t going to be bailed out by a conflicting ruling in Kentucky. Bevin was so bummed out that residents of his state filed a lawsuit against his Medicaid work requirements program that he filed this counter-suit against his own citizens in the Eastern District of Kentucky, arguing that the sixteen poor Kentuckians who were the plaintiffs in that case were causing the state of Kentucky harm because they would force him to “‘un-expand’ from expanded Medicaid.” If that sounds like a ridiculous and petty argument, it is worth keeping in mind that Bevin is a ridiculous and petty man. Most legal observers did not take the countersuit seriously. U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove dismissed the case, noting that the state could — and did — intervene in the underlying lawsuit challenging the work requirements. The state did not show how it was injured by the lawsuit, Tatenhove ruled. If Bevin responds to a ruling that his policy violates the law by taking health insurance away from 400,000 poor Kentuckians, that’s on Bevin, not on the Kentuckians who challenged his policy.
The backstory here: Bevin ran for governor promising to repeal the Medicaid expansion. That was Obamacare and Obamcare was bad, see. But then he got elected and realized that there might be some political cost to booting more than 400,000 of the state’s citizens off of their health insurance. Bevin caved, but like Governor Hutchinson in Arkansas, he sought alterations to make the program less effective. By creating bureaucratic hoops to jump through, he could chase at least some people off the program.
When Donald Trump was elected president, Bevin and Hutchinson were given an opportunity. The Obama administration had not allowed states to impose work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries, because Medicaid is a health care program and such requirements would threaten access to care for the poor and create needless red tape for low-income people. Bevin and Hutchinson adore imposing red tape on poor people.
The Trump administration allowed work requirements that are unlikely to have any impact on the amount that low-income people are working, but are quite likely to trim the Medicaid rolls when beneficiaries fail to keep up with paperwork requirements. Hutchinson and Bevin jumped at the chance. Bevin’s administration gave up the game when they articulated that the work requirements would save tens of millions of dollars precisely by booting people from the rolls. Indeed, this was Bevin’s argument when he sued his own citizens: He said that their lawsuit would interfere with his plot to save the state money by eliminating health insurance for tens of thousands of low-income Kentuckians.
If Bevin and other red-state governors continue to lose in court, the question is whether they value these paperwork requirements (or in the case of Arkansas, website requirements) so deeply that they are really willing to take away health insurance from hundreds of thousands of their citizens in a fit of pique.