States explore consequences of Medicaid work mandate
Republicans last week began to realize their long-held goal of requiring certain adults to work, get job training or perform community service in exchange for getting health coverage through Medicaid. Whether that’s a commonsense approach or an added burden that will end up costing many Americans their health insurance will now be debated in states across the country considering the landmark change to the nation’s largest health insurance program. Republicans say work and other requirements will return Medicaid to its original intent — a stopgap until people can find work. They say it has expanded far beyond its basic mission. The program, created in 1965 for families on welfare and low-income seniors, now covers more than 70 million people, or about 1 in 5 Americans. It expanded under President Barack Obama’s health care law, with a majority of states choosing to cover millions more low-income people. President Donald Trump’s administration announced that it will allow states to implement certain requirements as a condition of receiving Medicaid benefits. Generally, states can require many adults on Medicaid to get a job, go to school, take a job-training course or perform community service to continue their eligibility. Ten states had previously asked the federal government for the requirement waiver, and others are sure to follow. On Friday, Kentucky became the first to have it approved. Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, called the new requirement “transformational.”
Bevin has said he expects the move to save the state more than $300 million over the next five years in Medicaid costs. But he also estimated that as many as 95,000 Kentucky residents could lose their Medicaid benefits, either because they will not comply with the new rules or will make too much money once they begin working. Critics of the policy shift point to the number of people who could lose coverage, even if they meet the new requirements.
“We just have concerns that a lot of people who still are legitimately eligible, who do meet the work requirement, will end up falling off the rolls because they don’t know how to verify or there’s a technology glitch,” said Marquita Little, health policy director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
In Arkansas, the work requirement is among several new restrictions the state has proposed for its hybrid Medicaid expansion. About 285,000 people are on the program, which uses money from Medicaid to buy private health insurance for low-income people. Supporters of the work requirement cast it as a way to move more people into the workforce and eventually off Medicaid.
“These are people that are either underemployed or do not have sufficient training, and this is a mechanism to put into place to make sure that the health care coverage is really a bridge to training and better employment,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said.