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Judge Gives Feds More Time To Respond To Kentucky Medicaid Lawsuit

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A federal judge is delaying a lawsuit seeking to overturn Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s Medicaid changes. Judge James Boasberg granted the Department of Justice one additional week to respond to the suit because of the government shutdown.

Lawyers for the federal government are on furlough and therefore have limitations on what cases they can spend time on, according to the DOJ’s request. The DOJ originally asked for a stay in the case until the shutdown ends. 

“This request is necessary because the Department of Justice attorneys representing federal defendants have, subject to very limited exceptions, been unable to work on this case since appropriations lapsed on December 21, 2018,” the DOJ wrote in its request for a stay. “Thus, in the event that this Court does not grant a stay, counsel for the federal defendants would need additional time to meet their briefing deadlines.”

Judge James Boasberg on Thursday said he would delay the case but only if Kentucky agreed to push back the date for implementation of changes, which is April 1. But Kentucky did not agree.

“The Commonwealth prefers that this action, and any appeal, be resolved sooner rather than later,” attorneys for Kentucky wrote on Thursday in response.

Kentucky’s response said the administration would continue to plan to roll out changes beginning April 1, but would agree to a 10-day extension in the case.

“Because a 10-day extension of all briefing deadlines provides somewhat more flexibility to keep this case moving than does an open-ended stay, the Commonwealth, for now, opposes a stay of this case,” Kentucky attorneys wrote.

The judge on Friday gave the federal government until early February to respond to the Medicaid lawsuit, but would not extend the delay any longer.

The DOJ’s request for a delay comes after a group of Kentuckians filed suit against the federal government for its approval of Bevin’s controversial changes to the state’s Medicaid program, including the addition of community engagement requirements.

The Kentucky Equal Justice Center, along with two other advocacy groups representing several Kentuckians with Medicaid coverage, said it also didn’t want an open-ended stay of the case until the government reopens.

“The impact of an indefinite stay would be far more prejudicial to Medicaid recipients in Kentucky than to the federal Defendants,” lawyers for the Kentucky Equal Justice Center wrote in response. “After that date, it is Plaintiffs and other Medicaid recipients who will face immediate benefit cuts and be forced to comply with work and premium requirements or lose Medicaid coverage altogether.”

The judge is expected to make a final ruling in the case before Kentucky’s April 1 implementation date.

In June, Boasberg struck down Bevin’s plan to put in place community engagement requirements for Medicaid coverage that were set to go into effect in some parts of the state last year. After that ruling, the federal government re-examined it’s approval of the original changes, and then re-approved them in November.

The changes to the Medicaid program include a requirement that some enrollees work, volunteer or undergo job training for 80 hours a month to keep coverage. There's also a new rule that would require many enrollees to pay monthly premiums for coverage. More than 300,000 Kentuckians would have to meet these requirements.

An updated report from The George Washington University estimates between 86,000 and 136,000 Kentuckians could lose their Medicaid health insurance after the state rolls out changes to the program in April.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.

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