Top Congressional Democrats this week called on the Trump administration to stop allowing states to implement work requirements for Medicaid, citing the thousands of Arkansas residents who have lost coverage under the policy.
In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey say the administration has shown “shocking disregard of Congressional intent” in approving state waiver requests to place restrictions like work requirements on Medicaid eligibility. They also charge that the administration has failed to properly track the impact of such policies.
States can apply for waivers from the Department of Health and Human Services that enable them to still receive federal funds when veering from the Affordable Care Act’s rules for Medicaid expansion.
Fifteen states have applied for waivers to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients, according to CNN, and eight have had their requests approved. Arkansas in June 2018 became the first state to implement work requirements, forcing beneficiaries to work, look for work, volunteer or go to school 80 hours a month to be eligible for Medicaid. But the state’s implementation and online reporting system was problematic, and by mid-January of this year, more than 18,000 beneficiaries had lost coverage for failing to comply with the requirements, according to the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services.
Critics had warned that the Trump administration’s willingness to approve work requirements and the associated red tape threatened to reduce the number of low-income people covered and would take coverage away from some who were already working or otherwise should be eligible.
The Trump administration says that the requirements help people find jobs and rise out of poverty.
“We are looking closely at the people that have left the program to understand the reasons why they have left the program, and I think that’s going to give us a lot of lessons learned,” Seema Verma, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said of the Arkansas program in November.