FRANKFORT, Ky. (CN) – Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin does not have legal standing to sue Medicaid recipients who challenged the state’s requirements that people work to receive benefits, a federal judge ruled Monday.
Threatening to halt the state’s expansion of the Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, the Republican governor wanted the court to rule that the state’s Medicaid waiver plan, Kentucky HEALTH, is lawful under the Social Security Act, the Administrative Procedure Act and the U.S. Constitution.
Bevin’s countersuit filed in February was a shot across the bow of a group of 16 Kentuckians who had challenged the new rules in a federal lawsuit filed in Washington, in addition to other parts of the Medicaid waiver.
In January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved the first-of-its-kind waiver requiring nonexempt Kentucky adults between the ages of 19 and 64 to complete 80 hours per month of “community engagement” to retain benefits.
Medicaid recipients could fulfill the requirements by working, volunteering in the community or training for a job. The state argues the new rules foster health and wellbeing.
In June, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington, D.C., an appointee of President Barack Obama, prevented the Bluegrass State from implementing the program. He said it had not considered whether the work requirement was detrimental to the Medicaid program’s mission of providing health care to the state’s citizens, including low-income individuals and families.
Bevin tried to persuade the Kentucky federal court that future economic harm to the state could be traced back to the 16 activists and their lawsuit.
However, on Monday, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove in Frankfort wrote that the state “offers no authority in support of its position that any future economic harm it might suffer would be traceable to defendants.”
“It is clear that the United States District Court for the District of Columbia is not before this court as a party in this suit. It is also clear that if the Commonwealth ever suffers any economic injury as a result of not being able to implement Kentucky HEALTH, that injury will be traceable to whatever entity last affected its implementation, not these defendants,” the judge wrote.
In granting the defendants’ motion to dismiss, Van Tatenhove said that the state could still protect its interests in the D.C. lawsuit.
“The Commonwealth, therefore, could, but was not required to, protect its interests and seek the same declaratory relief it seeks here in the D.C. action,” said the judge, an appointee of President George W. Bush.
Matt Kuhn, general counsel for Governor Bevin, declined to comment Tuesday. Bevin’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Attorneys for the Medicaid recipients could not immediately be reached.