A battle is brewing in the courts over the Trump administration’s move to let states impose work requirements for recipients of Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor. Advocacy groups are gearing up to sue the administration, arguing that it doesn’t have the power to allow work requirements and other rules for Medicaid without action from Congress.

But the administration is defending the legality of the shift. When unveiling guidance Thursday on the work requirements, top Medicaid official Seema Verma said the administration has “broad authority” under current law to allow states to make changes through waivers.

. . .

A day after the Trump administration announced that it would allow states to compel poor people on Medicaid to work or get ready for jobs, federal health officials on Friday granted Kentucky permission to impose those requirements.

Becoming the first-in-the-nation state to move forward with the profound change to the safety-net health insurance program is a victory for Kentucky’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, who during his 2015 campaign for office vowed to reverse the strong embrace of the Affordable Care Act by his Democratic predecessor.

. . .

State lawmakers in Maryland are looking to replace ObamaCare’s individual mandate, which was repealed by Republicans in Congress last month.

A proposal in Maryland would require people to pay a penalty for not having insurance. The money, though, could be used as a down payment for a health insurance plan.

People would also have the option to pay the penalty and get nothing in return.

. . .

Section 1115 Medicaid demonstration waivers provide states an avenue to test new approaches in Medicaid that differ from federal program rules. While there is great diversity in how states have used waivers over time, waivers generally reflect priorities identified by states and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). On March 14, 2017, the CMS sent a letter to state governors that signaled a willingness to use Section 1115 authority to support work requirements and the alignment of Medicaid programs with private insurance policies.

. . .

Mississippi has received the first-ever 10-year extension of a Medicaid Section 1115 demonstration waiver, allowing the state to continue providing family planning services for people with income of up to 194% of the federal poverty level.

The CMS said the 10-year extension is part of the agency’s effort to give states greater flexibility in running their Medicaid programs, without having to ask the government for frequent approvals. Up to now, the agency typically granted Section 1115 waivers, which are supposed to be budget-neutral for the federal government, for five-year periods.

. . .

Whether it was bracing for a possible repeal of Obamacare or pondering an ambitious single-payer program that would overhaul how California provided medical care to its residents, the issue of healthcare kept politicians and policy wonks busy in 2017.

That’s not likely to let up in 2018.

. . .

Maine made history earlier this month by becoming the first state to adopt Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion via ballot initiative. The vote could inspire progressive activists in other states to push for similar referenda.

Expanding Medicaid to cover childless, able-bodied adults would blow a hole in state budgets while yielding few, if any, public health gains. That’s because Medicaid provides such low-quality care that its beneficiaries often experience worse health outcomes than people with no health insurance.

. . .

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) set substantial new federal requirements for health insurance plans and the insurers that provide them. These requirements significantly altered the way insurance is regulated, which was traditionally left to the states. The ACA included in Section 1332 the option for states to apply for a waiver from many of these regulations. However, the myriad stipulations tied to these 1332 State Innovation Waivers limit states’ ability to regain control of their own insurance regulations. Further, states have no guarantee they will be granted a waiver, even if they meet all of the ACA’s requirements for obtaining one.

In response to these issues, two Senate committees have introduced (or at least drafted) legislation that would solve many of the problems that states have had obtaining 1332 waivers. In addition to easing some standards and shortening timeframes for decisions, the bills also provide a standard path for states to gain these waivers in certain circumstances.

. . .

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, issued a statement in June about a discussion draft of health reform legislation that was then before the Senate, the Better Care Reconciliation Act.  He praised its life protections: “The Bishops value language in the legislation recognizing that abortion is not health care by attempting to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortion or plans that cover it. While questions remain about the provisions and whether they will remain in the final bill, if retained and effective this would correct a flaw in the Affordable Care Act by fully applying the longstanding and widely-supported Hyde amendment protections. Full Hyde protections are essential and must be included in the final bill.”

The leadership in the Senate, the House, and the White House know that any future health reform legislation must contain these strong life protections.

. . .

Voters in Maine approved a ballot measure on Tuesday to allow many more low-income residents to qualify for Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, The Associated Press said. The vote was a rebuke of Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who has repeatedly vetoed legislation to expand Medicaid.

. . .