Georgia sues Biden administration over rejected Medicaid work requirement

By: - January 21, 2022 6:35 pm

Then-Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma traveled to Georgia in late 2020 to announce federal approval of the governor’s scaled-down version of Medicaid expansion. The Biden administration has since withdrawn approval for key parts of the plan, including a work requirement. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder (2020 file photo)

Gov. Brian Kemp has followed through on his threat to sue the Biden administration over its recent decision to reject major elements of the governor’s health care plan.

Kemp argues his plan to slightly expand Medicaid should be allowed to move forward as originally envisioned since it was approved by the Trump administration in late 2020.

Under President Joe Biden, though, federal officials have frowned on provisions that would require newly eligible Medicaid participants to complete 80 hours of work, school or other qualifying activity every month and pay premiums.

The governor’s spokeswoman said last month Kemp planned to challenge the decision. His office announced in a press release Friday afternoon that the lawsuit had been filed in the United State District Court for the Southern District of Georgia in Brunswick. The complaint names the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and others as defendants.

“This case is about whether the federal government must keep its promises,” reads the complaint, saying the program had now morphed into “significant Medicaid expansion in Georgia without condition.”

The state Department of Community Health, which is one of the plaintiffs, has stopped implementing the program while the legal challenge is being considered.

Under Kemp’s original proposal, about 50,000 people would have gained health care coverage through Medicaid. When the Biden administration withdrew approval for parts of the governor’s plan, the feds emphasized the pandemic’s long-term impact on the poor.

State Republicans have dismissed the shift as a partisan political maneuver.

“Simply put, the Biden administration is obstructing our ability to implement innovative healthcare solutions for more than 50,000 hardworking Georgia families rather than rely on a one-size-fits-none broken system,” Kemp said in a statement Friday. “They have attempted an unlawful regulatory bait and switch, and it is clear that their decision is not being driven by policy – rather politics – as they attempt to force their top-down agenda on the American people.”

Democrats have criticized his plan as being more expensive than full Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which would put an insurance card in the pocket of about 500,000 people.

The Democratic Party of Georgia criticized Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr for continuing to defend the more limited health care plan.  

“It’s bad enough that Brian Kemp refuses to implement full Medicaid expansion – now, he and his henchman, Chris Carr, are wasting taxpayer dollars fighting for a restrictive health care proposal that leaves the mentally ill, Georgians with disabilities, and those caring for sick relatives behind,” the party’s spokeswoman, Rebecca Galanti, said Friday. “Georgians deserve leaders who put people before politics, and voters will hold Brian Kemp, Chris Carr, and Georgia Republicans accountable at the ballot box for their continued insistence on withholding health care from half a million Georgians.”

In Washington, Democrats have carved out new incentives for the dozen holdout states like Georgia that have not opened the program to more poor adults without insurance. Congressional Democrats have also proposed a federal work-around program, although those plans have stalled in the Senate.

“I’ll say it again. Georgia’s Medicaid work requirements are bad policy that would cost taxpayers more dollars while covering fewer people than full Medicaid expansion,” Georgia Congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux said in a statement. “It’s time to cut the politics and expand Medicaid to the more than 600,000 Georgians who qualify. Now more than ever, we must ensure everyone has access to affordable, quality healthcare.”

Republican lawmakers here publicly support the governor’s quest for what they say is a solution tailored for Georgia. Sen. Larry Walker, a Perry Republican, questioned whether Georgia’s health care system could even support a half million people on Medicaid. His comments were made during a panel discussion at the Georgia Budget and Polity Institute’s conference Friday, held shortly before the lawsuit was filed.

But Walker also defended the philosophy behind Kemp’s proposal.

“I don’t think you’re doing people, the citizens of Georgia, a service if you don’t show them and have a pathway for them to move off of Medicaid and off of welfare programs and off of this Great Society deal. I just don’t think you’re doing them a favor,” he said. “There are jobs out there. We’ve got to give them a hand-up and quit trying to give a handout for everything that people think they need.

“I thought the Georgia way was a very clever and well thought out way to let’s help the people that need … but let’s don’t make them dependent on government forever. Let’s give them a pathway out of that dependency,” Walker said.

State Rep. Sam Park, a Lawrenceville Democrat, pushed back on the view of Medicaid coverage as a “handout” when the opportunity for more people to seek preventative health care could reduce costs across the board in the long run.

“This is not a political move. This was policy,” Park said of the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw approval for parts of Kemp’s Medicaid plan. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.