- Associated Press - Friday, March 29, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee is continuing to seek work requirements for Medicaid recipients despite a recent federal court ruling blocking such rules from being enforced in two other states.

“We will continue to move forward with our work and community engagement waiver as required by state law while also monitoring any developments related to the recent decision,” said Kelly Gunderson, a spokeswoman for TennCare the state’s Medicaid program, in a statement.

Earlier this week, a federal judge ruled that Medicaid work requirements undermined the program’s mission of providing health care for the needy. U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg in Washington, D.C., blocked work requirements for low-income people from being enforced in both Arkansas and Kentucky.

Currently, Tennessee is one of seven states awaiting approval from the federal government to institute Medicaid work requirements.

The proposal has the backing of newly elected Republican Gov. Bill Lee.

“I’m in favor of the work requirements,” Lee told reporters on Thursday. “It’s important we figure out a way for folks to become independent and this allows them to do that and works toward that. What happens in court, we’ll have to watch and see.”

About 6 in 10 adults on Medicaid already work in low-wage jobs, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. Most of those not working cite reasons such as poor health, caring for an elder or child, or going to school.

Eight states have had their requests approved, though not all have put their programs in place, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Indiana officials have said they’ll move forward with their work requirements, while Ohio was still reviewing the ruling to see if it would have any impact on its work requirement scheduled to be implemented in 2021.

At the direction of the GOP-led state Legislature, Tennessee has requested federal approval to impose the requirement on about 56,000 low-income adults if they want to keep their Medicaid health coverage that is offered under the TennCare program. The requirement would not apply to the elderly or disabled, or pregnant women.

TennCare’s plan would require, however, that for at least four months of six-month periods, beneficiaries must log an average of 20 hours weekly of qualifying work, community service or education. Violators would face suspension until they show they have complied for a month, though TennCare may offer ways to regain coverage before that.

Tennessee submitted its application in late December and is awaiting response from the federal government.

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