HUTCHINSON: Has defended Arkansas's work requirement. Brian Chilson

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia today affirmed a lower court ruling that struck down Arkansas’s controversial Medicaid work requirement. The three-judge panel called the decision by Alex Azar, secretary of the federal Health and Human Services Department, to approve the plan “arbitrary and capricious” and found it to be violation of the administrative procedure act.

The decision will almost certainly be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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The National Health Law Program, along with Legal Aid of Arkansas, the Southern Poverty Law Center and, Jenner & Block, brought the case on behalf of Medicaid enrollees affected by the work requirement.

In a statement, National Health Law Program Legal Director Jane Perkins said, “We are gratified by the court’s ruling today. It means that thousands of low-income people in Arkansas will maintain their health insurance coverage — coverage that enables them to live, work, and participate as fully as they can in their communities.

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“Section 1115 of the Social Security Act only allows the Secretary to approve experimental projects that further the Medicaid Act’s purpose. As Judge Sentelle’s opinion repeatedly notes, the text of the Medicaid Act is clear as to this purpose – to provide health care coverage. The agency was bound by the purpose Congress selected and could not change it as it attempted to do. Only Congress can do that.”

Kevin De Liban, attorney at Legal Aid of Arkansas, said in a statement, “The Court recognized the tragic harm that these work requirements have caused for people in Arkansas doing their best to get ahead. Now, more than two hundred thousand Arkansans on the program can rest easier knowing that they’ll have health care when they need it.”

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UPDATE: Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has issue a statement:

“I am disappointed in today’s decision and am reviewing and discussing next steps with the Department of Justice.

“The effect of this decision is that work and community engagement requirements cannot be enforced, and Arkansas must provide three months of retroactive coverage instead of the one month allowed under the Arkansas Works approval. Beneficiaries who did not comply with the work and community engagement requirements for three consecutive months in 2018 and were removed from the program remain eligible to reapply for coverage through the Medicaid expansion program.”