Medicaid work mandate: Common sense reform or unfair burden?


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Republicans this past 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.

To Medicaid recipients such as Thomas J. Penister of Milwaukee, it has created uncertainty about their ability to have health coverage.

He has been unemployed for the last four or five years and has received Medicaid for the past 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.

“Would it be advantageous for me even to go into the workforce instead of me therapeutically transitioning to a state where I’m actually ready to perform in the workforce?” he said. He compared it to someone recovering from a car accident “and saying that in order for me to give you this medication, you got to go to work. Well, I can’t.”

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, sought federal approval for a work requirement last year and said it helps prepare recipients to leave public assistance.

Penister’s status is unclear, because Wisconsin’s proposed changes would exempt anyone diagnosed with a mental illness or who 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.

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…



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