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Our Editorial: Bullying no way to reform Medicaid

The Detroit News

Senate Republicans driving an effort to get more Medicaid recipients working are so eager to pass the measure that they are now resorting to bullying tactics. That’s the wrong way to handle this legislation, not to mention an overstep of their authority.

Lawmakers hope to pressure Gov. Rick Snyder into supporting the measure, which he has opposed. They should be devoting their time instead to negotiating with the governor, rather than using budgetary threats to force him to capitulate.

In its $56.6 billion budget, approved last Thursday, the Senate decided to hold hostage the salaries of top officials in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services if Snyder doesn’t agree to sign on to the Medicaid work requirement.

The Snyder administration would need to request a federal waiver to put the Medicaid work requirement in place. Congress allowed for the waivers in the tax reform overhaul and at least four other states have already secured them.

The Senate last month approved the provision calling for a 29-hour weekly work mandate for able-bodied adults. Job training programs could also meet the requirement. The Senate also wants to include a 48-month limit for those benefiting from the Healthy Michigan Medicaid expansion, which includes nearly 700,000 residents. About 2 million state residents are enrolled in Medicaid. The legislation is now in the House.

“We just want to send a message that it’s important for the administration to also take it seriously,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, told The Detroit News.

Senate leadership should find another way to do that.

Snyder has resisted the added requirements to the program, which he has championed as a model for other states to follow. Yet Healthy Michigan is already incurring additional costs, given the unexpected number of residents who joined the program. Lawmakers are right to try to rein in some of the costs. The Department of Health and Human Services already consumes 45 percent of the state budget — and more than 70 percent of that goes to Medicaid.

State Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, is reportedly still negotiating with Snyder over requirements passed in the Senate. That would be the better approach than using the budget to force the matter. Plus, the budgetary language isn’t likely to make it to Snyder anyway.

Shirkey has said about 300,000 Medicaid recipients would be impacted by the work mandate. There are already multiple exemptions built in, such as for parents with children 6 and younger, pregnant women and disability caretakers.

Snyder isn’t opposed to the idea of a work requirement, but he thinks it should be less onerous and that there should be more carve-outs.

Shirkey and other lawmakers should continue negotiating with the governor to find a compromise that helps reduce the Medicaid rolls over time, fills holes in Michigan’s workforce and preserves state funding for those who have the most pressing health care needs.