Federal court ruling calls into question Tennessee's TennCare work requirement

Jul 10, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  A Tennessee law seeking to require Medicaid recipients to work for health care coverage is on hold after a similar Kentucky law was struck down by a federal judge.

Medicaid is federally subsidized health insurance administered by the states for their poorest residents. TennCare is Tennessee’s version of Medicaid.

State Senator Kerry Roberts and Univ. of Oklahoma law professor Christina Juris Bennett

This past legislative session, mid-state lawmaker Kerry Roberts sponsored a bill that seeks to require able-bodied TennCare recipients to work, look for work or volunteer to qualify for benefits.

Senator Roberts believes people benefit from having a job, saying work provides dignity. He also says TennCare is a threat to the state budget.

“TennCare consumes a huge percentage of Tennessee’s budget, and we’ve got to manage these dollars effectively, and we want to do it with as much compassion as we can.”

But the federal judge who heard the case didn’t see much compassion in the Kentucky law, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.”

University of Oklahoma law professor Christina Juris Bennett agrees. Bennett began researching TennCare years ago while at Vanderbilt University. She believes the Kentucky and Tennessee work requirements are meant to cut costs by “kicking people off the Medicaid roles.”

“And that was an expected change and that was the desired outcome. And the judge said that’s fundamentally against the objective of Medicaid.”

Senator Roberts believes the TennCare work requirement will eventually be enforced. He thinks state and federal officials will find a way to make the rules pass judicial review.

Additional story resources:

  1. The book written by Professor Bennett concerning TennCare 
  2. The full interviews with Senator Roberts and Professor Bennett are linked below.