Stewart v. Azar, Civil Action No. 18–152 (JEB)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtJAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge
Citation313 F.Supp.3d 237
Parties Ronnie Maurice STEWART, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Alex M. AZAR II, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 18–152 (JEB)
Decision Date29 June 2018

313 F.Supp.3d 237

Ronnie Maurice STEWART, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Alex M. AZAR II, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 18–152 (JEB)

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Signed June 29, 2018


313 F.Supp.3d 242

Catherine A. McKee, Jane Perkins, National Health Law Program, Carrboro, NC, Devi M. Rao, Ian Heath Gershengorn, Lauren J. Hartz, Natacha Y. Lam, Samuel Jacobson, Thomas J. Perrelli, Jenner & Block LLP Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

Deepthy Kishore, Ethan Price Davis, Vinita B. Andrapalliyal, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge

In 2010, Congress enacted the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—popularly known as Obamacare—which is "a comprehensive national plan to provide universal health insurance coverage" across the nation. See Nat'l Fed'n of Indep. Bus. v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. 519, 583, 132 S.Ct. 2566, 183 L.Ed.2d 450 (2012). One central component of that statute was an expansion of Medicaid, allowing states to provide "health care to all citizens whose income falls below a certain threshold." Id. at 531, 132 S.Ct. 2566. This "expansion," the Supreme Court has held, represented "a shift in kind, not merely degree." Id. at 583, 132 S.Ct. 2566. While the "original program was designed to cover medical services for four particular categories of the needy: the disabled, the blind, the elderly, and needy families with dependent children," the Affordable Care Act "transformed" Medicaid "into a program to meet the health care needs of the entire nonelderly population with income below 133 percent of the poverty level." Id.

Defendants in this case have sought to roll back those reforms. Upon assuming office in March 2017, Defendant Seema Verma, the Administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services—along with then-Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Tom Price—immediately circulated a letter to the Governors of all states to share her belief that

313 F.Supp.3d 243

the ACA's Medicaid expansion "was a clear departure from the core, historical mission of the program." Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., Dear Governor Letter (Mar. 14, 2017), https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/sec-price-admin-verma-ltr.pdf. The letter encouraged states to apply for "waiver[s]" of some of the program's coverage requirements—especially for the expansion group—promising to "fast-track" approval of such petitions. Id.

Kentucky is one state to board that train. After the ACA went into effect, it elected to broaden Medicaid to include the expansion population, and by April 2016, more than 428,000 new residents had thereby received medical assistance. In July 2017, however, the state submitted an experimental plan to CMS called "KY HEALTH," which is made up of several components, most significantly Kentucky HEALTH. That latter program promised to "comprehensively transform" its Medicaid program. Under that plan, the state would impose "community-engagement" requirements for the expansion population, along with some of the traditional population as well. This new mandate would require that those recipients work (or participate in other qualifying activities) for at least 80 hours each month as a condition of receiving health coverage. The project also called for, among other things, increased premiums and more stringent reporting requirements. Consistent with CMS's earlier invitation, the Secretary approved Kentucky's application on January 12, 2018, waiving several core Medicaid requirements in the process.

Plaintiffs in this case are fifteen Kentucky residents, each of whom is currently enrolled in the state's Medicaid program. Together, they fear that Kentucky HEALTH will relegate them to second-class status within Medicaid, putting them and others "in danger of losing" their health insurance altogether. They have thus brought this action to challenge the Secretary's approval of Kentucky HEALTH.

Although the Secretary is afforded significant deference in his approval of pilot projects like Kentucky's, his discretion does not insulate him entirely from judicial review. Such review reveals that the Secretary never adequately considered whether Kentucky HEALTH would in fact help the state furnish medical assistance to its citizens, a central objective of Medicaid. This signal omission renders his determination arbitrary and capricious. The Court, consequently, will vacate the approval of Kentucky's project and remand the matter to HHS for further review.

I. BACKGROUND

The Court begins with an overview of the statutes governing Medicaid and its experimental projects. It then turns more specifically to Kentucky's challenged plan, before concluding with a brief procedural history of the current suit.

A. Statutory Background

1. Medicaid Program

Since 1965, the federal government and the states have worked together to provide medical assistance to certain vulnerable populations under Title XIX of the Social Security Act, colloquially known as Medicaid. See 42 U.S.C. § 1396–1. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, has primary responsibility for overseeing Medicaid programs. Under the cooperative federal-state arrangement, participating states submit their "plans for medical assistance" to the Secretary of HHS. Id. To receive federal funding, those plans—along with any material changes to them—must be "approved by the Secretary." Id.; see

313 F.Supp.3d 244

also 42 C.F.R. § 430.12(c). Currently, all states have chosen to participate in the program.

Before the Secretary can approve a state plan, the Medicaid Act sets out certain minimum parameters that all states must follow. See 42 U.S.C. § 1396a (listing 83 separate requirements). One such provision requires state plans to "mak[e] medical assistance available" to certain low-income individuals. Id. § 1396a(a)(10)(A). Until recently, that group included pregnant women, children, and their families; some foster children; the elderly; and people with certain disabilities. Id. In 2010, however, Congress enacted the Affordable Care Act "to increase the number of Americans covered by health insurance." NFIB, 567 U.S. at 538, 132 S.Ct. 2566. Under that statute, states can choose to expand their Medicaid coverage to include additional low-income adults under 65 who would not otherwise qualify. See 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(a)(10)(A)(i)(VIII). It also allowed states to cover certain former foster children under the age of 26. Id. § 1396a(a)(10)(A)(i)(IX).

Generally, a state must cover all qualified individuals or forfeit its federal Medicaid funding. Id. § 1396a(a)(10)(B). Although it may choose not to cover this ACA expansion population, see NFIB, 567 U.S. at 587, 132 S.Ct. 2566, if the state decides to provide coverage, those individuals become part of its mandatory population. In that instance, the state must afford the expansion group "full benefits"—i.e. , it must provide "medical assistance for all services covered under the State plan" that are substantially equivalent "in amount, duration, or scope ... to the medical assistance available for [other] individual[s]" covered under the Act. See 42 U.S.C. § 1396d(y)(2)(B) ; 42 C.F.R. § 433.204(a)(2) ; see also Jones v. T.H., 425 U.S. 986, 96 S.Ct. 2195, 48 L.Ed.2d 811 (1976).

The Medicaid Act also ensures that enrolled individuals receive a minimum level of coverage. Under section 1396a, states must cover certain basic medical services, see 42 U.S.C. §§ 1396a(a)(10)(A), 1396d(a), and the statute limits the amount and type of premiums, deductions, or other cost-sharing charges that a state can impose on such care. Id. § 1396a(a)(14) ; see also id. § 1396o . Other provisions require states to provide up to three months of retroactive coverage once a beneficiary enrolls, see id. § 1396a(a)(34), and to ensure that recipients receive all "necessary transportation ... to and from providers." 42 C.F.R. § 431.53. Finally, states must "provide such safeguards as may be necessary to assure" that eligibility and services "will be provided, in a manner consistent with simplicity of administration and the best interests of the recipients." 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(a)(19).

2. Section 1115 of Social Security Act

Both before and after the passage of the ACA, a state wishing to deviate from the Medicaid Act's requirements must obtain a waiver from the Secretary of HHS. See 42 U.S.C. § 1315. In enacting the Social Security Act (and, later, the Medicaid program within the same title), Congress recognized that statutory requirements "often stand in the way of experimental projects designed to test out new ideas and ways of dealing with the problems of public welfare recipients." S. Rep. No. 1589, 87th Cong., 2d Sess. 19, reprinted in 1962 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1943, 1961–62. To that end, Section 1115 of the Social Security Act allows the Secretary to approve "experimental, pilot, or demonstration project[s]" in state medical plans that would otherwise fall outside Medicaid's parameters. The Secretary can approve only those projects that "in [his] judgment ... [are] likely to

313...

To continue reading

Request your trial
18 practice notes
  • Norton v. Beasley, Civil Action 5:17-cv-351-CHB
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Kentucky
    • September 30, 2021
    ...that the agency “engage[d] in reasoned decision making” and “examine[d] all relevant factors and record evidence.” Stewart v. Azar, 313 F.Supp.3d 237, 259 (D.D.C. 2018) (citations omitted). “[C]onclusory statements will not do; an agency's statement must be one of reasoning.” Amerijet Int'l......
  • State v. Ross, Case No. 18-cv-01865-RS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • March 6, 2019
    ...agency order where agency failed to consider potential harms of its changes to an airport advertising program); Stewart v. Azar , 313 F.Supp.3d 237, 263 (D.D.C. 2018) (vacating HHS Secretary's waiver of several requirements of expanded Medicaid because "[f]or starters, the Secretary never o......
  • Matson Navigation Co. v. U.S. Dep't of Transp., Civil Action No. 18-2751 (RDM)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • May 30, 2020
    ...a court concludes that agency action is unlawful, 'the practice of the court is ordinarily to vacate the rule.'" Stewart v. Azar, 313 F. Supp. 3d 237, 272 (D.D.C. 2018) (quoting Ill. Pub. Telecomms. Ass'n v. FCC, 123 F.3d 693, 693 (D.C. Cir. 1997)). "[A]lthough vacatur is the normal remedy,......
  • Matson Navigation Co. v. U.S. Dep't of Transp., Civil Action No. 18-2751 (RDM)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • June 12, 2020
    ...a court concludes that agency action is unlawful, ‘the practice of the court is ordinarily to vacate the rule.’ " Stewart v. Azar , 313 F. Supp. 3d 237, 272 (D.D.C. 2018) (quoting Ill. Pub. Telecomms. Ass'n v. FCC , 123 F.3d 693, 693 (D.C. Cir. 1997) ). "[A]lthough vacatur is the normal rem......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
18 cases
  • Norton v. Beasley, Civil Action 5:17-cv-351-CHB
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Kentucky
    • September 30, 2021
    ...that the agency “engage[d] in reasoned decision making” and “examine[d] all relevant factors and record evidence.” Stewart v. Azar, 313 F.Supp.3d 237, 259 (D.D.C. 2018) (citations omitted). “[C]onclusory statements will not do; an agency's statement must be one of reasoning.” Amerijet Int'l......
  • State v. Ross, Case No. 18-cv-01865-RS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • March 6, 2019
    ...agency order where agency failed to consider potential harms of its changes to an airport advertising program); Stewart v. Azar , 313 F.Supp.3d 237, 263 (D.D.C. 2018) (vacating HHS Secretary's waiver of several requirements of expanded Medicaid because "[f]or starters, the Secretary never o......
  • Matson Navigation Co. v. U.S. Dep't of Transp., Civil Action No. 18-2751 (RDM)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • May 30, 2020
    ...a court concludes that agency action is unlawful, 'the practice of the court is ordinarily to vacate the rule.'" Stewart v. Azar, 313 F. Supp. 3d 237, 272 (D.D.C. 2018) (quoting Ill. Pub. Telecomms. Ass'n v. FCC, 123 F.3d 693, 693 (D.C. Cir. 1997)). "[A]lthough vacatur is the normal remedy,......
  • Matson Navigation Co. v. U.S. Dep't of Transp., Civil Action No. 18-2751 (RDM)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • June 12, 2020
    ...a court concludes that agency action is unlawful, ‘the practice of the court is ordinarily to vacate the rule.’ " Stewart v. Azar , 313 F. Supp. 3d 237, 272 (D.D.C. 2018) (quoting Ill. Pub. Telecomms. Ass'n v. FCC , 123 F.3d 693, 693 (D.C. Cir. 1997) ). "[A]lthough vacatur is the normal rem......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT