COVID-19 was an unexpected pandemic that hit the United States, causing Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) to rush to make accommodations for the states. States administer their Medicaid programs following a state plan and under the regulation of federal rules. With approval, states are allowed to amend their state plan and apply for waivers to improve the effectiveness of their Medicaid program. During COVID-19, the Trump Administration made available for states to apply for 1115 waivers, creating a new section labeling 1115(a), the 1135 waiver, and Appendix K to amend 1915(c) waivers for national emergencies. As of May 2020, CMS reported over 200 approved waivers across multiple states.
In early January of this year, the House Committee on Armed Services granted an extension to a bill that would increase border security. An unlikely opponent of this bill is the environmental lobby, since the bill would allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to waive the requirements of some of the most important environmental protection statutes. These statutes have been the basis for almost all the citizen enforcement in the environmental arena; they work to maintain protections for 73 different areas along the border, along with numerous endangered species.
States looking for flexibility or creativity in implementing Medicaid programs can apply for waivers from the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). According to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment Access Commission (MACPAC), waiver use is quite extensive—resulting in “wide variations in program design, covered services, and eligible populations among states and even within states.” As of September 2017, 33 states account for 41 approved waivers, and 18 states have 21 total pending waivers. The scope of these waivers traditionally broadens eligibility and creates new programs in states where Medicaid needs are not expressly recognized by federal law. Current pending applications suggest, however, that states seeking waivers now do so as a means to circumvent Medicaid program requirements they disagree with.