WASHINGTON -- The federal judge who shot down a Medicaid work requirement plan last June remained deeply skeptical Thursday of the Trump administration's renewed strategy to force enrollees to work.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, who last year blocked Kentucky's work requirement, heard testimony on a revised federal approval. He also had a hearing on Arkansas' Medicaid work requirement -- which took effect last July and has led to 18,000 Medicaid enrollees losing coverage.
After the court hearings in Washington, Boasberg said he would rule on both states' programs by April 1, which is when the next round of Arkansas enrollees could be kicked off the program. Kentucky plans to implement its work requirement this summer.
A ruling against a work requirement would have vast repercussions in more than a dozen other states that have been approved for new work requirements in Medicaid, the federal-state health program, or are seeking them from the Trump administration.
Throughout the two-hour-long hearings, Boasberg questioned Justice Department lawyer James Burnham on whether the work requirement plans approved by the Trump administration were helping to achieve Medicaid's goal of promoting health coverage.
When Burnham argued that work requirements would give people incentives to find work and improve their lives, Boasberg interjected: "That is not the purpose of Medicaid."
On Capitol Hill, Democrats grilled Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar about the work requirements. Azar testified this week before three separate committees, two in the House and one in the Senate, on the administration's budget request for the department.
Addressing the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, Azar disputed the idea that everyone who lost Medicaid in Arkansas was now uninsured. "Only 1,000 of those 18,000 people appealed" their loss of Medicaid, he said. "Only 1,452 of those 18,000 even reapplied for Medicaid when open enrollment came again."
Azar said that "seems a fairly strong indication" that the rest of those cut from the program "got a job and insurance elsewhere."
Top health officials for the Trump administration have said getting people on Medicaid into jobs will make them healthier -- which they call a key goal of the program.