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Court nixes upcoming argument on Medicaid work requirements

The Supreme Court on Thursday called off an oral argument that had been scheduled for late March on the legality of Medicaid work requirements approved under former President Donald Trump.

The Biden administration, which is unwinding the controversial Medicaid policy, asked the court in February to scrap a pair of cases in which the justices had agreed to review the policy. Acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the justices that, in light of “greatly changed circumstances,” it no longer made sense for the court to take up the issue. She asked the justices to cancel the March 29 argument and instead vacate two decisions by a federal appeals court that the justices had agreed to review.

In a one-line docket entry on Thursday, the court removed the consolidated cases – Cochran v. Gresham and Arkansas v. Gresham – from its March argument calendar, reducing the court’s next argument session to just six hours of scheduled arguments over the final two weeks of March (although, because of the format used by the justices during remote arguments, each argument will likely last well over the hour allocated for it).

The court, however, has not yet acted on Prelogar’s request to vacate the two lower-court decisions at issue. Those decisions – both from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit – found that the Trump administration’s approval of work requirements in the Medicaid programs of Arkansas and New Hampshire violated federal law. Prelogar told the justices last month that the decisions have caused “uncertainty” about the authority of health officials to approve pilot projects in state Medicaid programs.

Rather than take them up on the merits, she said, the court should simply wipe the decisions from the books and send the state-specific work-requirement approvals back to the Department of Health and Human Services so that health officials can reconsider them.

The Biden administration has indicated that it will reverse Trump’s promotion of work requirements in Medicaid, the safety-net program that provides health coverage for more than 70 million Americans. Under the Trump-era policy, some Republican-led states got federal permission to require Medicaid recipients to work, perform community service or engage in job training as a condition of maintaining coverage. But the requirements never took effect on a widespread basis. Court rulings shut them down in several states, and a federal COVID-19 relief law effectively blocked all states from imposing new eligibility restrictions, including work requirements, during the pandemic.

Arkansas nonetheless wanted the justices to proceed with the argument and resolve the legality of the policy. In opposing Prelogar’s request last month, the state told the justices that the issue remains a live controversy because the Biden administration has not formally revoked the federal approval for Arkansas’ work-requirement plan.

The removal of the cases from the March calendar is the latest change to the Supreme Court’s docket prompted by the Biden administration’s policy shifts. In recent weeks, the court has dismissed pending cases or scrapped oral arguments involving controversial Trump-era policies on green-card applicants, so-called “sanctuary cities,” asylum seekers, and funding for the border wall.

Recommended Citation: James Romoser, Court nixes upcoming argument on Medicaid work requirements, SCOTUSblog (Mar. 11, 2021, 12:55 PM),