Editorial: Keep Medicaid work rules in place for now

The Detroit News

Last year, the state Legislature passed some pretty common-sense work requirements for citizens who enroll in the Healthy Michigan Medicaid expansion program. Democrats, led by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, are now pushing against those measures before they take effect Jan. 1. 

Whitmer has asked the implementation be suspended. It’s too soon to judge whether the work requirements will be harmful to Michiganians benefiting from the free health insurance coverage. Rather, let them take effect and see the real-world implications.

Democrats, led by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, are pushing against Medicaid work requirement measures before they take effect Jan. 1.

If the requirements help encourage some able-bodied adults to find work — and work themselves off government assistance — that’s a win for all involved.

The Healthy Michigan program, passed in 2013, greatly expanded the state’s Medicaid rolls by more than 650,000. Medicaid is one of the state's largest expenditures, and this expansion has certainly added to that — even though the federal government picks up most of the tab.

According to the 2019 budget, the Health and Human Services Department consumes about 44% of the state's $57 billion budget — 60% of the department’s budget is dedicated to Medicaid. 

So it’s responsible for Republican lawmakers to try to cap those costs. 

Gov. Rick Snyder promotes the Healthy Michigan program at Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn in 2013.

After the Trump administration extended the option to states of tying work requirements to Medicaid expansion recipients, Michigan jumped on board. Last June, lawmakers passed the guidelines, which include working 80 hours a month, getting job training or furthering education. 

But there are plenty of caveats built into the law, and those should ease concerns of naysayers. In passing the legislation, Republican leaders made multiple compromises to earn the support of former Gov. Rick Snyder, who didn’t want the requirements to be overly burdensome on poor residents. 

Those exemptions include: pregnant women; caretakers of children under 6; individuals receiving short- or long-term disability; full-time students who are not dependent upon a parent or guardian; individuals with a disability; and caregivers of incapacitated individuals. 

House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey don’t seem eager to change the requirements. 

In a statement, they said: “Able-bodied adults who want cash assistance and subsidized healthcare coverage should obviously be expected to either work part time or at least prepare for a career in exchange for welfare benefits. That is simply common sense, and it is something the Michigan taxpayers who foot the bill for these programs expect.”

Whitmer claims the requirements jeopardize health coverage for approximately 200,000 individuals. She is also concerned that lawsuits challenging the law could waste money if the requirements are overturned, since the state has spent $28 million preparing for the changes and estimates it will spend $40 million more. 

The Trump administration is also taking heat for its recent rule on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Yet the rule impacts only childless, able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49, and limits states from granting waivers that were OK’d by the Obama administration. Not surprisingly, the number of childless adults on food stamps doubled following those waived work requirements. 

Government assistance, whether at the state or federal level, should be saved for those most in need. Michigan should stay the course with its work rules.