Governor says DOJ appealing Arkansas Works decision

by Steve Brawner (BRAWNERSTEVE@MAC.COM) 152 views 

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a notice of appeal with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals regarding a federal judge’s decision to terminate the work requirement for Arkansas Works recipients, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday (April 10).

Hutchinson said he had been informed of the news by the department while speaking to reporters in his office. He expects the department to request an expedited appeal allowing it, if necessary, to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Charles Gresham, et al. v. Alex M. Azar II, et al., U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled March 27 that HHS Secretary Azar’s decision to grant Arkansas the work requirement waiver was “arbitrary and capricious because it did not address – despite receiving substantial comments on the matter – whether and how the project would implicate the ‘core’ objective of Medicaid: the provision of medical coverage to the needy.”

He ruled in the Arkansas case and in a separate Kentucky case that the work requirement could not stand. He relied on an earlier ruling against Kentucky’s work requirement he had made in June 2018.

The nine plaintiffs in the case are represented by Legal Aid of Arkansas, the National Health Law Program, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Originally known as the “private option,” Arkansas Works was created by legislators and Gov. Mike Beebe’s administration in 2013. It was created after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled states could choose whether or not to expand their Medicaid populations under the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

Many Republican-leaning states chose not to expand their populations. Arkansas did, but instead of simply expanding Medicaid, it used mostly federal funds to purchase private health insurance for those lower-income individuals. A total of 235,962 individuals were enrolled March 1.

After Gov. Asa Hutchinson was elected, he embraced the program, helping it each year attain the 75% support required in both the Arkansas House and Senate for funding. To help secure that support among skeptical lawmakers, the state requested and was granted a federal waiver allowing it to require non-exempt recipients to work 80 hours per month or engage in other community engagement activities.

In 2018, 18,164 enrollees lost coverage for failing to meet the requirement. Of those, 1,910 of those recipients had gained coverage in 2019, including 1,889 of them in Arkansas Works, according to a Department of Human Services report March 15. More than 13,000 recipients of the state’s Arkansas Works program did not meet its work requirement in February.

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