Common sense or burden?
New work mandate is likely to trigger debate in states across U.S.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Republicans this past week began to realize their longheld 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.
To Medicaid recipients such as Thomas Penister of Milwaukee, it’s created uncertainty about his ability to have health coverage.
He’s been unemployed for four or five years and has received Medicaid for the last two. He sees a behavioral health specialist to deal with anxiety and said Medicaid has made a big difference in his life.
Penister, 36, said he is not yet ready to rejoin the workforce and is unnerved by the prospect of potentially losing Medicaid. His state, Wisconsin, is one 10 that applied to the federal government for a waiver seeking to implement work and other requirements for single adults.
Yet his story also helps make the case for those who favor some type of commitment from working-age adults who benefit from Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for poor and lower-income Americans. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, said the change helps prepare recipients to leave public assistance.
Penister’s status is unclear, because Wisconsin’s proposed changes would exempt anyone who is diagnosed with a mental illness or is mentally unable to work.
Republicans say work and other requirements will return Medicaid to its original intent — to act as a stopgap until people can find work. They say it has expanded far beyond its basic mission.
But critics of the policy shift point to the number of people who could lose coverage, even if they meet the new requirements.
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.
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.