Kentucky first to win federal OK to roll back Medicaid expansion

Health care professionals fear Medicaid changes AP

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Calling it an “exciting day,” Gov. Matt Bevin on Friday said federal authorities have given Kentucky broad power to reshape its Medicaid program, making it the first state in the nation to win such approval under rules that allow states to include work requirements for some recipients.

“I am excited by the fact that Kentucky will now lead the nation,” Bevin said at a news conference at the Capitol Rotunda. “We’re ready to show America how this can and will be done.”

The news was released Friday by Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., just minutes before Bevin’s announcement. Yarmuth called the move “dangerous and irresponsible,” saying it will cause tens of thousands of Kentuckians to lose health coverage.

But Bevin dismissed such comments and said the plan will transform Medicaid.

“It will be a model for the nation,” he said.

But advocacy groups disagreed, including Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition of health organizations that had opposed the changes as unnecessary and harmful to low-income people who rely on Medicaid for health care.

“Gov. Bevin’s plan to reform Kentucky Medicaid remains out-of-touch with what low-income, working Kentuckians and vulnerable families need to truly get healthy, stay healthy and contribute in their communities,” the group said in a statement Friday.

The approval comes 16 months after Bevin, a Republican elected in 2015, announced sweeping changes to the $10 billion federal-state program that provides health care for 1.4 million low-income and disabled Kentuckians, arguing it is “not sustainable.”

And it comes one day after the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare announced it has approved controversial new “community engagement” rules to allow states to require some Medicaid beneficiaries to work or volunteer in order to get health coverage.

Kentucky’s plan is certain to face a legal challenge, with advocates arguing that changes contemplated by the state’s plan are not allowed under federal Medicaid law, including work requirements, the elimination of transportation services to medical appointments and monthly premiums charged to people in poverty.

“They are illegal and not permissible under law,” said Leonardo Cuello, a lawyer with the Washington-based National Health Law Program, which anticipates filing a lawsuit challenging Kentucky’s plan. “They also are a very bad policy for making sure people get health care.”

Bevin agreed the plan might face a legal challenge but seemed unconcerned.

“It’s conceivable,” he said. “There’s a lot of lawsuits that fly around.”

Bevin sidestepped questions about possible savings from the plan, although he had projected it could save Kentucky more than $300 million in Medicaid costs over the five-year life of the proposal when he announced it in 2016.

“Only time will tell,” Bevin said Friday.

The program will be phased in starting in July, officials said Friday.

Bevin’s plan would require…

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