Oregon gov, AG join suit to defend Medicaid home care workers

Say DHS rules undermine bargaining rights

SALEM, Ore. - Governor Kate Brown and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said Thursday they have joined a multi-state lawsuit opposing a new rule issued by the Trump Administration that they say undermines the bargaining rights of home care workers who are paid for by Medicaid funds.

The Oregon officials said the new rules announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mean that these workers cannot deduct employee benefits or union dues from their paychecks, even though Oregon workers currently have the right to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and training.

In Oregon, there are approximately 30,000 workers in Oregon’s home and community based services Medicaid program, and more than 20,000 older adults and people with disabilities who receive assistance from the program.

“In Oregon, we’re proud to protect the freedom and voices of our workers. Oregon voters stood up for home care workers’ right to join a union and the federal government wants to steamroll our values while silencing workers’ voices,” said Governor Brown.

“This proposed rule disproportionately impacts women and people of color, who spend their time, energy, and devotion caring for our most vulnerable. From the Janus ruling to the federal shutdown, the Trump administration, and the wealthy and well-connected who drive their policies, have shown disregard and contempt for hard-working Americans. I’m proud to stand for and with Oregonians who support our caretakers and the communities that rely on them.”

Rosenblum added, “Oregon has a strong tradition of supporting our workers, and supporting their right to organize and deduct union dues from their paycheck. Home care workers provide an invaluable service to our communities, and by undermining their ability to organize, it makes it harder for these workers to ask for better workplace protections.

"In order to provide the highest quality of care to the more than 20,000 older adults and Oregonians with disabilities who use the program, we must give our home care workers a voice and an easy ability to pay their dues. Stronger workplace protections and unions mean a better quality program,” she said.

Background on the Rule:

On July 10, 2018, the U.S. DHS released a proposed rule to reinterpret Medicaid state payment requirements. The rule was primarily based on a supposed need to “eliminate a state’s ability to divert Medicaid payments away from providers.” Yet, the federal government provided no evidence to suggest that Medicaid payments were being inappropriately diverted, the Oregon officials said.

Under state law, Medicaid in-home workers who are hired by seniors and individuals with disabilities to provide personal care services, such as bathing, feeding, dressing, and transportation, are authorized to collectively bargain. Brown and Rosenblum said the federal rule interferes with the state’s ability to deduct payments for worker benefits obtained through collective bargaining. This rule would disrupt well-established collective bargaining relationships authorized for decades by state labor laws.

Despite opposition from states charged with administering the Medicaid program and no hard data to support the need for such a rule, the Trump Administration finalized the rule, they said. While the states could, in theory, avoid disruption to their state labor arrangements by foregoing federal Medicaid funding for personal care services, doing so would forfeit more than $6.5 billion in federal dollars, causing devastating harm to state health care budgets and eroding the states’ capacity to provide needed home care for seniors and persons with disabilities.

In addition to Oregon, the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Washington joined this lawsuit.

A copy of the complaint filed earlier this week is available here.

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