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Major national organizations, from AARP to the American Medical Association, are lining up to ask a federal judge to block Kentucky’s planned Medicaid overhaul.

AARP and the AARP Foundation, Justice in Aging, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund have jointly filed a brief saying the state’s Kentucky HEALTH program will harm vulnerable Kentuckians who depend on Medicaid.

“Kentucky HEALTH imposes significant and unfair obligations upon low-income Kentuckians, with the evident intent to reduce Medicaid enrollment,” the brief says. “The many negative impacts will only be exacerbated by predictable administrative errors and bottlenecks.”

The brief was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., in support of more than a dozen Medicaid beneficiaries who are suing the Trump administration to stop Kentucky’s program, which recently received federal re-approval. Earlier this month, a group of scholars asked a judge to block Kentucky’s Medicaid overhaul.

Starting in April, the program will require certain adults to complete and report 80 hours a month of work or other “community engagement” activities, such as volunteering or job training. Other features include premiums and a My Rewards account for earning virtual dollars to pay for some services, such as routine dental and vision care.

In their brief, AARP and the others explain that their interest extends beyond Kentucky to other states that are seeking to make similar changes.

“The Court’s ruling will have a nationwide impact on the extent to which low-income persons have access to health care, and whether such health care will be subject to the types of restrictions established by Kentucky HEALTH,” the brief says.

Given the program’s rules and penalties, people in their 50s and 60s, as well as younger people with chronic conditions or functional impairments, are likely to be negatively impacted, AARP says. “Lost months of Medicaid coverage have a human cost: less preventative care, greater decline, and avoidable deterioration in physical and mental health.”

The AARP brief also bemoans the financial woes some individuals would face because of coverage no longer being allowed for a period of up to three months before they apply for Medicaid.

“Our members and clients suffer strokes, auto accidents, and falls, among other setbacks, and unexpectedly find themselves in hospitals and nursing homes, often struggling with terrifying new medical realities,” the brief notes.

“It is little surprise that many do not file a Medicaid application within the initial month, particularly when the ‘month’ of admission may just be a day or two before one month turns into another. Under Kentucky HEALTH, a woman could be hit by an uninsured driver on the evening of January 30, and be liable for thousands of dollars of hospital expenses due to the ‘failure’ to file a Medicaid application within 36 hours, when January becomes February,” it says.

In a separate friend of the court brief, the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians and a handful of other health-related groups say they “are deeply concerned about Kentucky HEALTH — and programs like Kentucky HEALTH — that threaten low-income Medicaid beneficiaries with loss of their health benefits in the name of encouraging them to seek employment.”

The groups, which include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and others, say the program won’t achieve its stated goals.

“Far from yielding better health outcomes and reducing dependence on government programs, Kentucky HEALTH will harm the health of Kentucky Medicaid beneficiaries and increase health care provider and government expenditures in the long term,” they said.

More specifically, “the plan will create new administrative expenses, and increase program costs when healthy beneficiaries lose their coverage only to re-enroll when their health has worsened and their conditions are more costly to treat.”

Like AARP, the groups also criticize the termination of non-emergency medical transportation benefits for some beneficiaries, noting that will effectively block some people from using their benefits.

Darla Carter is a hometown girl who recently joined the staff of Insider Louisville to mostly cover health. She previously served as a longtime health and fitness writer for The Courier-Journal, where she also worked for the Metro, Neighborhoods and Features departments. Prior to that, the award-winning journalist wrote for newspapers elsewhere in Kentucky and Tennessee, covering a range of topics, from education to courts. She's a graduate of Western Kentucky University, where she studied journalism and philosophy, and is the proud mom of two young children.


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