Politics & Government

Matt Bevin loses another Medicaid waiver lawsuit. This time, it’s one he filed in Frankfort

Ronnie Stewart, standing outside his Lexington apartment, is the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit to block Gov. Matt Bevin’s changes to the Medicaid program.
Ronnie Stewart, standing outside his Lexington apartment, is the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit to block Gov. Matt Bevin’s changes to the Medicaid program. cbertram@herald-leader.com

A federal judge in Frankfort on Monday dismissed Gov. Matt Bevin’s lawsuit against 16 Medicaid recipients in which he hoped to win court approval for his controversial state Medicaid changes, including co-pays and work requirements.

The case was essentially a countersuit against the same 16 people who successfully sued to block Bevin’s Medicaid changes this summer in a Washington, D.C. federal court — 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 suit in Washington, where a different judge ruled against him and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in June, Van Tatenhove wrote. Given that, Bevin failed to show what injury the Frankfort court was supposed to redress for him, 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 able-boded Medicaid recipients up to age 64 to work or volunteer 80 hours a month in order to continue receiving health insurance.

While Boasberg did not rule out the possibility of adding work requirements, he said the federal government failed to adequately consider whether the tougher standards included in Kentucky’s waiver would interfere with Medicaid’s legal purpose of providing medical care to low-income Americans.

The plaintiffs claimed that Bevin’s plan — known as Kentucky HEALTH — violated the 1965 law establishing Medicaid because poor people’s access to health care would be reduced.

After the Medicaid recipients sued, Bevin obtained permission to join the Washington case on the side of the federal government.

Bevin then 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.

Woody Maglinger, a Bevin spokesman, said in a prepared statement Monday: “The complaint was dismissed on procedural grounds and did not address the substance of the case.”

One of the lawyers representing the Medicaid recipients called Bevin’s lawsuit “shameful.”

“Gov. Bevin’s administration responded to his constituents’ legal action in a shameful manner that, as the Kentucky district court concluded, was legally flawed,” said Anne Marie Regan, senior staff attorney with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center.

“Our plaintiffs’ litigation is not an attack on the Bevin administration,” Regan said. “It is a well-founded and legally solid attempt to ensure that Medicaid in Kentucky is not damaged by illegal exemptions that would lead to nearly 100,000 Kentuckians trying to survive in jobs with low-wages, from losing access to vital Medicaid services.”

At present, the federal government is reviewing a fresh round of public comments on Kentucky’s Medicaid waiver that have been collected since the June court decision in Washington. A new federal ruling on the state’s waiver application is expected in the near future.

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