The U.S. Justice Department filed notice today that it would appeal the decision preventing Arkansas (and potentially many other states) from imposing a work rule to qualify for expanded Medicaid coverage.

The rule was adopted by the legislature under Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s oversight of the Medicaid expansion and his administration had argued for its continuation.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg last month struck down Arkansas’s work rule, the only one in place in the country, and also prevented Kentucky from beginning such a plan. The Trump administration had supported the waiver from Medicaid rules and other states have been working on a similar waiver.

The ruling put an end to required reporting by certain Medicaid recipients. Those 18,000 dropped from the program last year were able to reapply at the beginning of this calendar year, but many have not. Perhaps 10,000 more were due to be dropped April 1 had the judge not ruled as he did.

Arkansas’s policy cuts off health coverage for those who do not report at least 80 hours of “work activities” — some education, job search and volunteer hours count — for any three months in a given calendar year. About 6,500 beneficiaries hit the two-month mark at the end of February, state data shows, which means thousands likely would have reached their third strike at the end of March.

Brief notices of intention to appeal were filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia by the federal defendants, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II and Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. They will appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge also filed a notice of appeal as an intervenor in the case.

In the recent legislative session, the General Assembly approved a Medicaid budget that anticipated the continuation of the work rule. Its suspension could mean an increase in the number of people covered and thus an increase in cost (an estimate of $20 million was mentioned at one point during debate) but the governor has said there’s sufficient room in the multi-billion-dollar budget of the Department of Human Services to handle the expense. The legislature approved the budget despite the judge’s decision, with some grumbling but not much drama. It passed in one vote in the Senate and two in the House.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, among those challenging the work rule, issued this statement from Same Brooke, deputy legal director:


“The Trump Administration is wrong on the law. And we are confident that the judge’s well-reasoned opinion in this case will stand.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who’d requested an expedited appeal, said on Twitter: “This should get this case to get to SCOTUS, if necessary, in a timely fashion.”