Trump officials to allow work requirements for Medicaid

Trump officials to allow work requirements for Medicaid
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

The Trump administration will encourage states to pursue work requirements for certain Medicaid beneficiaries, a top official said Tuesday.

The remarks by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Seema Verma would signal a significant departure from the Obama administration’s approach to such requests.

Several states have already proposed work requirements, and Verma’s comments indicate a willingness to fast-track those approvals.

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The Obama administration repeatedly said work requirements were inconsistent with Medicaid’s mission of providing health care to low-income people.

According to Verma, allowing states to impose work requirements is an essential part of granting them more flexibility. Making Medicaid beneficiaries work will ensure they bring themselves out of poverty.

“Let me be clear to everyone in this room, we will approve proposals that promote community engagement activities,” Verma said. She defined “community engagement activities” as working, receiving job training, going to school or volunteering.

The speech was Verma’s most detailed explanation of the direction she wants to take the program. She also sharply criticized the Obama administration’s opposition to work requirements.

“Believing that community engagement requirements do not support or promote the objectives of Medicaid is a tragic example of the soft bigotry of low expectations consistently espoused by the prior administration,” Verma said, according to prepared remarks provided to reporters of a speech to the National Association of Medicaid Directors.

“Those days are over.”

Eight states — Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Maine, Utah and Wisconsin — have submitted requests to CMS seeking to require nondisabled Medicaid enrollees to either work or provide community service, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Kentucky’s waiver is expected to be approved in the coming days.

“Every American deserves the dignity and respect of high expectations and as public officials we should deliver programs that instill hope and say to each beneficiary that we believe in their potential,” Verma said. “CMS believes that meaningful work is essential to beneficiaries’ economic self-sufficiency, self-esteem, well-being, and health of Americans.”

ObamaCare allowed states to expand Medicaid to anyone making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $16,600 this year. As a result, 11 million people have gained coverage who would not otherwise have been eligible.

Conservatives believe the expansion discourages “able bodied” people from working because it provides free health care.

“The thought that a program designed for our most vulnerable citizens should be used as a vehicle to serve working age, able-bodied adults does not make sense, but the prior administration fought state led reforms that would’ve allowed the Medicaid program to evolve to meet the needs of these new individuals,” Verma said.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, most people on Medicaid are working. About 59 percent of nondisabled adults on Medicaid who are under 65 years old have jobs, the organization found.