Michigan is currently the only state in the country that requires those who get state Medicaid expansion coverage to work for those benefits.
All across Michigan, hundreds of thousands of people who previously lacked health insurance have been able to receive medical care and purchase necessary prescription drugs thanks to the state’s 2014 Medicaid expansion.
But 80,000 of those Michiganders could lose their Healthy Michigan Plan coverage in the coming months under the state’s Medicaid work requirement program. That looming threat prompted Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to take action on Tuesday, when she asked a federal court to suspend the work requirement program.
Whitmer, a Democrat, filed a motion for partial summary judgment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asking a judge to protect tens of thousands of Michigan families from losing Medicaid coverage.
The work requirement, which went into effect on Jan. 1, mandates that an estimated 238,000 Medicaid recipients between the ages of 19 and 62 prove that they’re working at least 80 hours a month, or provide a valid reason why they’re not, such as being enrolled in school, being pregnant, or serving as the primary caretaker for a child under the age of six.
These beneficiaries must properly document their activities to the state each month, and risk losing their coverage if they fail to report their activity for three months in a 12-month period.
Their first report was due in January, and the next deadline to report is Saturday, Feb. 29. Thus far, roughly 80,000 Michiganders—one in three Medicaid recipients the state has deemed able to work—have yet to file documents relating to their work status. Unless they file updated reports, these beneficiaries could lose their healthcare coverage as early as May 31.
Whitmer is trying to stop that from happening.
“I’m fighting to protect health care because everyone deserves access to quality, affordable care,” Whitmer said in a statement Tuesday.
Whitmer’s motion comes two weeks after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld a lower court’s ruling that federal approval of Arkansas’ Medicaid work requirements program was illegal because the program did not consider the primary objective of the Medicaid Act, which is to provide health care coverage.
Judges have previously blocked similar programs in Kentucky and New Hampshire and Michigan’s program has also been the subject of legal action, but Whitmer said the ruling on the Arkansas program left little doubt that Michigan’s work requirement program—the only one in the nation that is currently active—is also unlawful.
“Since it’s inevitable that the courts will also find Michigan’s work requirements unlawful, we should not move forward with implementation,” Whitmer said in her statement. “Doing so would waste millions of taxpayer dollars and cause senseless confusion for tens of thousands of families.”
Whitmer’s office believes the District Court of Columbia will apply the higher court ruling to the Michigan case and declare Michigan’s work requirements program unlawful. Since that ruling may not come until later this spring, the governor has also called on the Republican-controlled state legislature to pass a bill suspending the work requirements. The legislature has refused to do so.
Amber McCann, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), who sponsored the 2018 work requirement law, told Bridge Magazine on Tuesday that Shirkey’s support for the program “has not wavered” and the Senate has no intention of suspending the work requirements.
“He believes fostering a path of independence and supporting an individual in pursuit of his or her highest level of personal productivity is essential to the health and productivity of our entire population,” McCann said.
If Shirkey and fellow Republicans don’t change their tune and if the court still hasn’t issued a ruling by March 10, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) will have to begin sending letters to the 80,000 beneficiaries informing them that they are at risk of losing their Medicaid coverage.