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Federal judge strikes down Michigan’s Medicaid work requirements
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Federal judge strikes down Michigan’s Medicaid work requirements

A federal district court judge issued an order Wednesday vacating the controversial “work and community engagement” requirements for Medicaid recipients in Michigan.

Starting in June, the program would have removed tens of thousands of Michigan residents from the Medicaid rolls for noncompliance, and Michigan’s government has tried to terminate the requirements over the objections of the federal department of Health and Human Services (HHS), led by Alex Azar. Last fall, the same judge in the US District Court for the District of Columbia heard a similar challenge to work requirements in Arkansas and vacated those rules as well. The case was appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which upheld the decision in February. Tuesday’s decision on Michigan’s rules was predicated in large part on the fact that HHS acknowledged that the issues in the case were “not materially different” from those in the Arkansas challenge.

“While the federal defendants continue to disagree with this Court’s decisions in [the Arkansas cases], they acknowledge that, under those decisions, HHS’ approval of [Michigan’s] work and community engagement component is unlawful,” the HHS lawyers had written in a Tuesday memo to Judge James Boasberg. HHS argued, however, that the judge should nonetheless leave in place the rest of the “Healthy Michigan Plan” that Secretary Azar had approved, even if he decided to vacate the work requirements.

Those work requirements meant that Medicaid recipients had to document hours of job searching, work, community service, or education in order to remain eligible for the program. In upholding the decision to vacate the same requirements in Arkansas, the DC Circuit noted that the Medicaid statute exists expressly to provide healthcare coverage. By pursuing other objectives like “behavioral and social factors” that might have some beneficial effects on the healthcare system but would still reduce coverage, “the Secretary disregarded this statutory purpose in his analysis,” the court said.

Boasberg’s Tuesday order granted partial summary judgement to Michigan in their challenge to HHS, vacating Azar’s approval of the work requirements. The rest of the approval relevant to Michigan’s healthcare plan, however, would be subject to further briefing.