Republican lawmakers in the Minnesota Legislature want to require the state’s “able bodied” Medicaid recipients to be working, looking for a job or in school.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt joined Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, in sponsoring a bill that would impose work requirements for those receiving public health care assistance who are not the sole caregiver for a child nor someone with disabilities. They believe the requirements will boost the number of people participating in the state’s workforce.
Similar legislation is proposed in the state Senate and has the support of Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, and Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who chairs the health and human services committee.
The proposal comes just two months after President Donald Trump’s administration signaled it supported work requirements to obtain taxpayer-funded medical coverage. Several states are considering similar rules.
Minnesota Republicans have long wanted to rein in spending on public assistance programs. Daudt noted that enrollment in Medical Assistance has nearly tripled since the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, became law. Medical Assistance is Minnesota’s name for Medicaid.
The enrollment growth is largely due to Minnesota expanding Medicaid eligibility under Obamacare, which was initially funded entirely by the federal government. Federal money is now supposed to cover 95 percent of the cost.
The cost of Medical Assistance in Minnesota grew by nearly $2 billion in the last two-year state budget, according to Daudt.
“If you care about roads and bridges, if you care about schools, if you care about almost anything else in the state budget, then you should be in favor of this bill,” Daudt said. “The reason is, this is going to eat the state budget.”
Medical Assistance costs are on the rise, but the increases are primarily due to coverage for elderly Minnesotans and families with children. Adults without children account for a smaller increase.
Democrats and advocates for people on Medicaid criticized the proposal saying it would be costly and have unintended consequences. They also noted that about two-thirds of Medicaid recipients who do not have a disability are already working.
“This proposal would add another layer of paperwork and reporting to the lives of hard-working Minnesotans struggling to make ends meet,” said Patrick Ness, of the This Is Medicaid Coalition. A single, childless adult on Medical Assistance makes roughly $16,000 or less annually.
Last month, the state Department of Health announced Minnesota’s uninsured rate in 2017 grew to 6.3 percent from 4.3 percent in 2015, the last time it was measured. Democrats worry imposing new requirements could drive the uninsured rate up further.
“Today’s unnecessarily cruel and misguided proposal from Republicans will only set us back further in our efforts to expand access to health care for the people who need it the most,” said Rep. Jennifer Schultz, DFL-Duluth, who is a member of the House health and human services finance committee.
Roughly 400,000 Minnesotans who do not have a disability receive Medicaid and Republicans estimate work requirements would affect about 125,000 of them. The work requirements would be similar to those in place for other government aid programs like food stamps and welfare.
It is unclear how much enforcing the work requirements would cost or how much the state would save if those recipients made enough money to purchase insurance. The possible increased cost of uncompensated care at Minnesota hospitals is also unclear.
Lawmakers supporting the work requirements emphasized Minnesota’s low unemployment rate and competitive job market that now has more openings than job seekers. They noted that enrolling in a workforce training program or volunteering would qualify under the proposed work requirements.
“What a great opportunity to move people out of poverty into good job training skills, good jobs to help sustain themselves down the road,” Fenton said. “I think this is a very positive thing for Minnesotans. This is not meant to be punitive.”
This report contains information from the Associated Press.