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GOP senator calls for mandatory Medicaid work requirements

GOP senator calls for mandatory Medicaid work requirements
© Greg Nash

Republican Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.) on Thursday said Medicaid work requirements should be mandatory for states, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should take the lead to make it happen.

During a hearing on the HHS budget, Kennedy said many Medicaid beneficiaries who aren’t working “would like to know the dignity of work” noting he would like to see HHS work with Congress to put together a program that would institute a mandatory requirement that Medicaid beneficiaries work 20 hours a week.

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“I appreciate that [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] is willing to grant waivers, but why don’t we take the next step?” Kennedy said, adding separately that “it’s not going to be optional for governors.”

The Trump administration has been encouraging states to apply for waivers that would allow them to institute work requirements on Medicaid recipients — a policy that was denied by the Obama administration.

To date, four states have had their work requirements approved and six others have pending waivers. All but one of the states have a Republican governor.

Under the state waivers approved to date, beneficiaries would lose their Medicaid coverage if they fail to meet the work requirements or if they fail to pay many income-related premiums that states establish.

Kennedy though, said he wants to focus on finding people jobs, not punishing them for being unemployed.

“We don’t want to throw people out in the cold, but we want to help them understand the dignity of work,” Kennedy said. “Let’s put together an aggressive program that’s not optional for the states … not to throw people out in the cold, but to say ‘you can keep your benefits, but let us help you get a job.’ ”

States are not required to provide job training or job search programs, but if they choose to, they are not allowed to use federal Medicaid money to pay for it. The state waivers approved to date provide no new federal funding for job training, job search, transportation, child care or other support services.

Democrats and Medicaid advocates say work requirements are illegal and have vowed to fight them. They argue work requirements don’t promote the objectives of the Medicaid program because they are a barrier to coverage.

States that expanded Medicaid under ObamaCare experienced significant decreases in the numbers of uninsured people, and advocates say work requirements are a way for the Trump administration to roll back those coverage gains.