Editorial: House should ease Medicaid work rules

The Detroit News

Michigan needs more workers to fill the jobs now vacant in its expanding economy. And it needs fewer residents collecting Medicaid benefits, if it is to keep that program solvent for those truly in need. Both goals can be accomplished with a reasonable version of the Medicaid work requirement bill moving through the Legislature.

But it must be the right version, and the bill passed by the Senate last week is not the one.

Gov. Rick Snyder will most likely veto the Senate bill should it also be adopted by the House and sent to him for signature.

The governor’s spokesmen said, “this version of the bill is neither a reasonable nor responsible change to the state’s social safety net. We should not jeopardize the success of Healthy Michigan, which has helped hundreds of thousands of Michiganders who no longer have to choose between taking care of their health or paying their bills.”

The governor tried to work with the Senate to make the bill’s work provisions less stringent and to provide more exemptions for Michigan residents who may struggle to meet its demand that able-bodied Medicaid recipients either work or train for work to keep their eligibility.

Those affected by the new mandate — roughly 300,000 of the more than 2 million residents receiving Medicaid — would have to work 29 hours a week or attend job training or other schooling. It would be up to the recipients to verify compliance, and if they fail to do so twice they’d lose their benefits for one year.

Passed on a mostly party-line vote, the bill drew criticism from Democrats who contend it is too harsh and that the jobs many of the Medicaid recipients would qualify for pay low wages or are inaccessible to them due to a lack of child care or transportation.

Parents of children under the age of 6 would be exempt, as would pregnant women, caretakers for the disabled and those recently released from prison or collecting unemployment benefits. Those who are on the job or taking training courses would not lose their Medicaid benefits under this bill. The hope is that they would ultimately move into jobs that paid good wages or included employer-provided health insurance.

Democrats attempted to also exclude military veterans and raise the child-rearing exemption to age 9. They also tried to reduce the work requirement to 20 hours.

That puts them closer in line with Snyder, who is unlikely to sign the bill passed by the Republican-controlled Senate.

While not opposed to the work requirement, the governor believes the 29-hour rule is too onerous. He’d also like to see more carve-outs.

The bill is supported by most business groups, which are desperate to encourage more people into the workforce. Such a measure might help do that, if it is crafted correctly.

It is essential to reduce the Medicaid rolls. Unless something changes, the Healthy Michigan program, drafted in response to Obamacare and now serving 670,000 residents, is at risk of going bust in two years.

Snyder was working with Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and was said to be surprised that the bill was moved through the Senate before a deal was reached.

He has another chance to shape the legislation as it is debated in the House. Rather than risk a veto, leadership should work with the governor to come up with a bill that encourages residents into the workforce without punishing them for being poor.