Court Dismisses Kentucky Governor's Countersuit Over Medicaid Work Requirements

by | August 21, 2018

By John Cheves

A federal judge in Frankfort on Monday dismissed Gov. Matt Bevin's lawsuit against 16 Medicaid recipients, a tool he used to defend his controversial requirements that some enrollees pay co-pays or work to get benefits.

The lawsuit was the reverse of a suit the same 16 people successfully brought against Bevin's Medicaid changes in a federal court in Washington, D.C. -- a fact that U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove noted in his dismissal order.

Bevin already chose to participate as a defendant in the Washington case, where a different judge ruled against him and the federal government in June, and he failed to show what injury the Frankfort court was supposed to redress, Van Tatenhove wrote.

"Not all disputes are capable of federal judicial review," Van Tatenhove wrote. "Federal courts are limited in their jurisdiction, and they can only hear cases where the plaintiff can establish jurisdiction. Here, the commonwealth failed to do so."

In the Washington case, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg struck down Kentucky's plan to require many thousands of Medicaid recipients to work or volunteer in order to continue receiving health insurance benefits.

Sixteen Kentucky Medicaid recipients sued the federal government in January to block Bevin's planned changes to Medicaid. The plaintiffs claimed that Bevin's plan -- known as Kentucky HEALTH -- should not have been approved; they said it violated the 1965 law establishing Medicaid because poor people's access to health care would be reduced.

After the Medicaid recipients sued the federal government to block the waiver that it had granted to Bevin's Kentucky administration, Bevin asked to join the Washington case on the side of the federal government. Bevin also sued the Medicaid recipients in federal court in Frankfort to defend his changes as legal, setting up the possibility of two different outcomes before two different judges. The Washington judge is a Democratic appointee; the Frankfort judge is a Republican appointee.

Bevin has said that if he loses in court and cannot prevail on appeal, he will end expanded Medicaid in Kentucky, which has extended health coverage to about 400,000 people with incomes just above the poverty line. After his initial defeat in Washington, he has temporarily repealed the dental, vision and non-emergency transportation benefits of some Medicaid recipients and he has temporarily instituted co-pays for some Medicaid recipients. Under pressure, he recalled both changes.

(c)2018 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)