State asks lower court to declare work requirements unlawful

On Tuesday, Michigan Governor Gtechen Whitmer filed a motion for partial summary judgment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asking a judge to act quickly to protect tens of thousands of Michigan families from losing their Healthy Michigan Plan coverage.

Several lawsuits across the country have successfully challenged states’ Medicaid work requirements. Plaintiffs have also challenged Michigan’s program, and Michigan has intervened in that case. On Friday, Feb. 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld a lower court’s decision that federal approval of Arkansas’ Medicaid work requirements program was unlawful because it did not consider the primary objective of the Medicaid Act, which is to provide health care coverage.

This opinion leaves little doubt that Michigan’s Medicaid work requirements are also unlawful. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has already admitted as much in a court filing prior to  the appellate court decision. The District Court for the District of Columbia is widely expected to apply the higher court ruling to the Michigan case and issue an order that ultimately declares Michigan’s work requirements program unlawful.

Since the lower court may not rule until later this spring, Whitmer has called on the Michigan Legislature to immediately pass legislation suspending Medicaid work requirements to avoid wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and creating senseless confusion among health care recipients . Without a court order or legislative action, MDHHS will have to send letters beginning on March 10, 2020 to an estimated 80,000 people telling them they are at risk of losing their health care coverage.

“I’m fighting to protect health care because everyone deserves access to quality, affordable care,” said Whitmer. “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia recently struck down a law just like Michigan’s. Since it’s inevitable that the courts will also find Michigan’s work requirements unlawful, we should not move forward with implementation. Doing so would waste millions of taxpayer dollars and cause senseless confusion for tens of thousands of families.”

“The purpose of the Medicaid program is to make sure that people have health care coverage for when they need medical treatment,” said Attorney General Dana Nessel. “The federal courts have already found that these work requirements hinder that purpose, rather than advance it. With the court’s most recent ruling in a related case, it is just a matter of time until Michigan’s work requirements are no longer enforceable. Given that, the state would be throwing away taxpayer money to enforce the requirements and causing confusion and concern for thousands upon thousands of Michigan beneficiaries, whose health care coverage should not be held in limbo. To avoid unnecessary delay and concern, we have asked the court to expedite its decision.”

“More time and stress for Michiganders complying with reporting requirements, more energy from our staff and partners implementing them, and more than $1 million each month funding these efforts, on top of more than $30 million spent already—all of this is going to be wasted,” said MDHHS Director Robert Gordon. “While we will continue to enforce the law as long as we must, we hope to end this unproductive exercise as soon as possible so that we can focus on positive efforts to improve Michiganders’ lives and save taxpayers’ money.”

Four Michigan residents filed the lawsuit at issue on November 22, 2019 in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services approved Michigan’s request for a waiver of certain federal Medicaid requirements, allowing the work requirement program passed by the state legislature to move forward. These individuals claim the agency violated various provisions of federal law in approving the state’s waiver request and asked the court to block the work requirements from taking effect.

In December, Whitmer sent a special message calling on the legislature to delay implementation of Healthy Michigan Plan work requirements rather than risk wasting taxpayer dollars and creating needless confusion now that the requirements face a serious legal challenge.

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