Whitmer wants 'expedited decision' on Michigan's Medicaid work requirements

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration asked a federal court Tuesday for an "expedited decision" on the legality of Michigan's Medicaid work requirements imposed by Republican legislative leaders.

The request from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services came 11 days after a three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals panel unanimously ruled against work requirements in Arkansas.

"The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia recently struck down a law just like Michigan’s," Whitmer said in a Tuesday statement. "Since it’s inevitable that the courts will also find Michigan’s work requirements unlawful, we should not move forward with implementation."

Robert Gordon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services,  speaks at a press conference in Lansing on Thursday, announcing increases to asset limits for food and cash assistance.

In the Arkansas case, the U.S. Court of Appeals said "the principal objective" of Medicaid was "providing health care coverage” and that work requirements lacked legal authorization.

Whitmer, a Democrat, has called on the Michigan Legislature to immediately pass legislation suspending Medicaid work requirements "to avoid wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and creating senseless confusion among health care recipients," according to a press release from her office.

But Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, who has championed the work requirements, seemed to rule out that idea on Tuesday.

Shirkey told reporters it would be "shameful" if the state didn't follow through on the law and declined to weigh in on whether the courts would ultimately strike it down.

In November, four Michigan residents filed a federal complaint against Alex Azar, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the department itself and Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The lawsuit alleged that members of President Donald Trump's administration acted outside their administrative authority when they approved a set of conditions on beneficiaries of Michigan's Medicaid expansion program.

Michigan's Medicaid expansion program, known as the Healthy Michigan Plan, has more than 600,000 beneficiaries. Michigan lawmakers and Republican then-Gov. Rick Snyder approved the program in 2013, extending Medicaid coverage to those with incomes at or below 133% of the federal poverty level, which is about $33,000 for a family of four.

In June 2018, the GOP-controlled Michigan Legislature approved work requirements for individuals enrolled in the Healthy Michigan Plan, and Snyder signed it into law. It  requires able-bodied adults participating in the program to work 80 hours a month, get job training or pursue formal education to keep their health coverage.

Shirkey has said the work requirements would improve the lives of Healthy Michigan Plan recipients while keeping the program financially sustainable for the state as federal subsidies decline.

The work requirements took effect at the start of this year. However, Healthy Michigan participants who aren't exempt from the requirements must fail to meet them for three months before losing coverage.

The website for the state's Healthy warns people of upcoming changes to the program. The changes are new work requirements for some participants.

The state Department of Health and Human Services plans to send a notice "to more than 80,000 individuals" who didn't comply with the work requirements in January on March 10, according to the new court filing. The notice will inform them that they will lose coverage "if they do not report community engagement requirements for February and March," the filing says.

"While we will continue to enforce the law as long as we must, we hope to end this unproductive exercise as soon as possible so that we can focus on positive efforts to improve Michiganders’ lives and save taxpayers’ money," department Director Robert Gordon said in a statement.

Gordon has previously predicted that more than 100,000 people could eventually lose their coverage because of the work requirements.

Under Michigan's program, disabled residents, pregnant women, full-time students, children and one parent in a household with a child under the age of 6 years are exempt from the work requirements.