Whitmer admin seeks quick ruling on Medicaid work rules

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration on Tuesday asked for a quick court ruling on the legality of Michigan’s Medicaid work requirements, hoping to avoid sending notices to more than 80,000 people who did not comply with the rules during the first month they were in place.

The state Department of Health and Human Services filed a motion with U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington. It came 11 days after a federal appeals court affirmed Boasberg’s earlier decision to invalidate Arkansas’ requirement that low-income people work for government-provided health insurance, dealing a blow to the Trump administration’s efforts to remake Medicaid.

Michigan officials said there is no dispute that Michigan’s requirements are illegal, too, absent further judicial review. Four residents sued the federal government in November, with assistance from advocacy groups.

“Since it’s inevitable that the courts will also find Michigan’s work requirements unlawful, we should not move forward with implementation,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Doing so would waste millions of taxpayer dollars and cause senseless confusion for tens of thousands of families.”

Barring a court decision, the state on March 10 will notify more than 80,000 enrollees in Michigan’s Medicaid expansion program that they did not comply with reporting requirements for January and will lose their coverage on May 31 if they do not report for February and March. The state had 674,000 participants as of November.

Many are exempt from the rules, which also do not apply to the more than 1.7 million state residents covered by the traditional Medicaid program.

“State law requires MDHHS to send this notice to beneficiaries who have failed to comply with the requirements for a single month, but the result would be pointless confusion and even fear for those individuals receiving the notice,” assistant attorney general Toni Harris wrote in the filing.

Starting Jan. 1, able-bodied adults ages 19 through 61 who want to maintain their benefits have to show workforce engagement averaging 80 hours a month under a 2018 law — through work, school, job training or vocational training, an internship, substance abuse treatment or community service.

Republican legislative leaders have rejected Whitmer’s request to delay the rules. House Speaker Lee Chatfield, of Levering, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, of Clarklake, said Michigan taxpayers expect able-bodied adults wanting cash assistance and subsidized health coverage to work part-time or at least prepare for a career.

Bob Wheaton, a spokesman for the Health and Human Services Department, said that only a small number of the roughly 80,000 enrollees reported that they hadn’t met the requirements, meaning the vast majority simply did not report at all.

Though nine states have had Medicaid work requirement waivers approved by the Trump administration, Michigan is the only one with rules in effect. Boasberg has blocked the requirements in Kentucky, Arkansas and New Hampshire; and two other states, Arizona and Indiana, have blocked enforcement or implementation — citing litigation.

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