Federal court chucks Michigan’s Medicaid work requirements 

By: - March 4, 2020 6:24 pm

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An estimated 80,000 Michiganders will keep their Healthy Michigan coverage after a federal court ruled Wednesday that Michigan’s Medicaid work requirements were unlawful. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer filed a motion last month with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asking it to toss the requirements. The ruling means that the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) cannot implement the requirements, which went into effect Jan. 1.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Jan. 30, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

“This is great news for Michiganders, although it is not surprising given a previous federal court decision regarding Medicaid work requirements in Arkansas,” Whitmer said in a news release. “While it’s unfortunate that Republicans in the Legislature created confusion and wasted tens of millions of taxpayer dollars by pressing forward with implementation of requirements that were clearly going to be thrown out by the courts, I look forward to working with the Legislature on a better way to promote work while protecting coverage.”

Healthy Michigan is the Medicaid expansion program allowed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and it has given more than 650,000 residents access to comprehensive health benefits. In 2018, the GOP-controlled Legislature passed work requirements, and GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder signed them into law. The law requires Michiganders spend 20 hours a week on work or school. 

During a meeting of the Michigan Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Community Health and Human Services, Chair Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford) said there could be an appeal to Wednesday’s ruling. 

DHHS Director Robert Gordon also was at the committee meeting and was scheduled to give an update about the implementation of the work requirements. Gordon said DHHS has spent more than $30 million to comply with the requirements with Public Act 208 of 2018. According to Gordon’s presentation during the committee meeting, here’s what DHHS spent in fiscal year (FY) 2019 to prepare to implement the work requirements in Michigan:

  • $1.9 million on administrative needs
  • $25 million for MI Bridges system updates
  • $1.6 million for outreach and education

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Here’s what DHHS was projected to spend on those areas in FY 2020:

  • $9 million on administrative needs
  • $6 million on MI Bridges system updates
  • $25 million on beneficiary support (with support from the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO)
  • $1 million on outreach and education

McGregor asked Gordon to pinpoint what monies hadn’t been spent in an effort to determine if some of it could go back into the General Fund. Gordon said that money was spent developing and deploying training for thousands of staff members, as well as implementing the law.

“We have done everything in our power to implement the law and will continue to follow whatever laws are on the books,” Gordon said.

Gordon added that because no action was taken by legislators in December — after Whitmer had called on them to do so — it was the agency’s responsibility to implement the work requirements., DHHS sent 238,000 letters to inform people they were at risk of losing their Health Michigan Plan coverage. Gordon said that now that the Medicaid work requirements have been ruled unlawful, DHHS will have to send out additional letters, telling people that the work requirements aren’t in effect.

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“The law is now blocked, and therefore it [money] was spent for a lot of things that we’re not going to do,” Gordon said.

Meanwhile, many Michigan lawmakers have spoken out about the Medicaid work requirements ruling. State Sen. Marshall Bullock (D-Detroit), who has led efforts to repeal the work requirements said he believes they are “oppressive to the disenfranchised, disadvantaged, and at-risk communities. 

“They are a discriminatory, knee-jerk reaction to an ancient ideology about what Medicaid is,” he continued. “The fact is this: Medicaid is health care, and everyone deserves access to affordable health care. We, as policymakers, should be protecting our families, friends, and loved ones. This law did everything opposite, so I am beyond pleased the courts have ruled it unlawful.”

State House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), however, said he’s disappointed in the judge’s ruling.

“Hardworking taxpayers are getting ripped off by having to foot the bill for able-bodied adults who choose not to work. Requiring welfare recipients to at least look for a job to get free government health care is common sense,” said Chatfield.

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Madeline Ciak
Madeline Ciak

Madeline Ciak is a former Michigan Advance reporter. She’s a University of Michigan-Flint graduate and previously worked as a digital media manager at NBC25/FOX66 in Flint and a weekend producer at ABC12.