Utah among 10 states considering work requirements for Medicaid recipients

In this March 22, 2017, file photo, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Seema Verma listen at right as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. The Trump administration says it's offering a path for states that want to seek work requirements for Medicaid recipients, and that's a major policy shift toward low-income people. | Associated Press photo by Evan Vucci, St. George News
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (AP) — Rewriting the rules on health care for the poor, the Trump administration said Thursday it will allow states to require “able-bodied” Medicaid recipients to work, a hotly debated first in the program’s half-century history.

Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said requiring work or community involvement can make a positive difference in people’s lives and in their health. The goal is to help people move from public assistance into jobs that provide health insurance. “We see people moving off of Medicaid as a good outcome,” she said.

But some have said work requirements will become one more hoop for low-income people to jump through, and many could be denied needed coverage because of technicalities and challenging new paperwork. Lawsuits are expected as individual states roll out work requirements.

“All of this on paper may sound reasonable, but if you think about the people who are affected, you can see people will fall through the cracks,” said Judy Solomon of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which advocates for the poor.

Created in 1965 for families on welfare and low-income seniors, Medicaid now covers more than 70 million people, or about 1 in 5 Americans. The federal-state collaboration has become the nation’s largest health insurance program.

Beneficiaries range from pregnant women and newborns to elderly nursing home residents. Medicaid was expanded under former President Barack Obama, with an option allowing states to cover millions more low-income adults. Many of them have jobs that don’t provide health insurance.

People are not legally required to hold a job to be on Medicaid, but states traditionally can seek federal waivers to test new ideas for the program.

Verma stressed that the administration is providing an option for states to require work, not making it mandatory across the country. Her agency spelled out safeguards that states should put in place to get federal approval for their waivers.

States can also require alternatives to work, including volunteering, caregiving, education, job training and even treatment for a substance abuse problem.

The administration said 10 states have applied for waivers involving work requirements or community involvement. They are: Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin. Advocates for low-income people say they expect Kentucky’s waiver to be approved shortly.

In Kentucky, which expanded Medicaid, Republican state Sen. Damon Thayer said work requirements could lessen the program’s impact on the state budget. They also hearken back to the program’s original intent, he added, “as temporary assistance to try to help people get back on their feet, not a permanent subsidy for someone’s lifestyle, if they’re capable of working.”

But congressional Democrats said the Trump administration is moving in the wrong direction.

“Health care is a right that shouldn’t be contingent on the ideological agendas of politicians,” said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees Medicaid.

The debate about work requirements doesn’t break neatly along liberal-conservative lines.

A poll last year from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that 70 percent of the public supported allowing states to require Medicaid recipients to work, even as most Americans opposed deep Medicaid cuts sought by congressional Republicans and the Trump administration.

Another Kaiser study found that most working-age adults on Medicaid are already employed. Nearly 60 percent work either full time or part time, mainly for employers that don’t offer health insurance.

Most who are not working report reasons such as illness, caring for a family member or going to school. Some Medicaid recipients say the coverage has enabled them to get healthy enough to return to work.

Thursday’s administration guidance spells out safeguards that states should consider in seeking work requirements. These include:

  • Exempting pregnant women, disabled people and the elderly.
  • Taking into account hardships for people in areas with high unemployment, or for people caring for children or elderly relatives.
  • Allowing people under treatment for substance abuse to have their care counted as “community engagement” for purposes of meeting a requirement.

The administration said states must fully comply with federal disability and civil rights laws to accommodate disabled people and prevent those who are medically frail from being denied coverage. States should try to align their Medicaid work requirements with similar conditions in other programs, such as food stamps and cash assistance.

The National Association of Medicaid Directors, a nonpartisan group representing state officials, said in a statement there’s no consensus on whether work requirements are the right approach.

This is a very complex issue that will require thoughtful and nuanced approaches,” said the group.

Trump’s new direction can be reversed by a future administration. Although waivers can have lasting impact they don’t amount to a permanent change in the program. They’re considered “demonstration programs” to test ideas. The administration says the impact will be closely evaluated.

“We know that Republicans tend to think of Medicaid more as a welfare program, while Democrats tend to think of it as more of a health insurance program,” said Diane Rowland, the Kaiser foundation’s leading expert on the program. “It will be interesting to see how states are going to make this work for people.”

Written by RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press.

Associated Press writer Bruce Schreiner in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this report.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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9 Comments

  • Not_So_Much January 12, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    This isn’t being done now because ?

    • mctrialsguy January 12, 2018 at 5:28 pm

      Because we are a nation now of hand-outs without doing anything in return to deserve it. It’s called “The Liberal Agenda for more votes” at the expense of the taxpayer’s!

      • bikeandfish January 13, 2018 at 11:46 am

        Now? Medicaid was created in 1965, its more than 50 years old. All states now participate, including conservative strongholds, like Utah, who have advocated voluntarily for expansion.

        “Liberal Agenda”? It was passed with noticeable bipartisan support. It was supported by almost half of Congressional republicans at the time of passage. We don’t see bills with such voting records anymore and the republicans who voted for it were anything but “liberal”. Our historical memory has been eroded by hyperpartisan ideology and we’ve forgotten the lived realities that led our country to create these programs. Hard working Americans were destitute for no fault of their own and Congress knew the negative effects that had on our nation as a whole. Its the story behind most of safety net programs despite fear mongering and partisan rewriting of the 90s.

        You can disagree with such programs all you want but you don’t get to fabricate histories.

        • comments January 14, 2018 at 1:06 pm

          There was a time when repubs were a lot more compassionate. They even voted in bills to support working americans and a middle class. Those times are long over. Now anything that supports working americans and a middle class they call THE EVILS OF SOCIALISM.

    • bikeandfish January 13, 2018 at 9:11 am

      Have you ever known someone on Medicaid?

  • comments January 12, 2018 at 3:45 pm

    Let’s get a big deep earth salt mine going for the sole purpose of putting medicaid recipients to work. We could even chain them together and have armed guards to make sure the work is done. If they become lazy they’ll be lashed or made to work extra hours.

    • mctrialsguy January 12, 2018 at 5:29 pm

      That’ll work, or we can put them to work and have them help in building that big new development that is planned for St. George on the South-East end.

      • comments January 12, 2018 at 6:24 pm

        we also need to tattoo a number onto their forearm so they can be identified. these are not like normal working people. they may be the enemy and maybe should be deported. medicaid is UNAMERICAN. ITS SOCIALIST. ITS COMMUNISM!

  • asianspa January 13, 2018 at 9:44 am

    Medicaid is the single illegal immigrant healthcare plan of choice. 1) Come to USA 2) reproduce with anybody named Martinez 3) get on medicaid, welfare, etc… 4) Claim you are a victim of racist white men…

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