Top Democrats rebuke Trump administration for Medicaid work requirement policies

Posted at 5:11 PM, Feb 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-22 13:22:18-05

Top congressional Democrats requested Tuesday that the Department of Health and Human Services halt Medicaid work requirements, citing widespread loss of coverage in Arkansas.

The letter, signed by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey rebukes the administration for “disregard of Congressional intent” and a failure to track the impact of waiver policies.

Using Medicaid 1115 waivers, states can receive federal funds for Medicaid expansion despite modifying the policy outlined in the Affordable Care Act. The waivers, however, must be approved by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Arkansas was the first state to implement work requirements after the Trump administration signaled in 2017 that it was open to approving them. The Obama administration had rejected similar requests.

Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, and Pallone, the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Committee, reiterated concerns they had expressed in letters before the Arkansas policy took effect.

“We unfortunately are now seeing these concerns play out in real life in the state of Arkansas where thousands of individuals have been forced off and locked out of their Medicaid coverage,” they wrote in the letter.

By mid-January, more than 18,000 Arkansas beneficiaries lost coverage, according to the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services. The state had implemented the policy in June 2018. The law requires beneficiaries to work, volunteer, search for jobs or go to school 80 hours a month in order to be eligible for Medicaid.

Fifteen states, including Arkansas, have applied for waivers to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients. Eight of those states have gained approval to move forward.

A news release from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce said the policy is an attempt by the Trump administration to create barriers to health care.

“If you think about the Medicaid statute the goal is to cover people and insure that people who are in need have access to quality affordable healthcare these waivers are designed to purge people from the rolls,” CJ Young, Energy and Commerce committee press secretary for health issues, told CNN.

The US Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

The letter comes a week after the Energy and Commerce Committee held hearings on three bills which seek to counteract Trump administration healthcare policies. The bills – HR 986, HR 987 and HR 1010 – each seek to specifically roll back Trump administration guidance on waiver policy, short-term insurance plans and outreach.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Arkansas was the first state to implement work requirements in its Medicaid program. It was not the first state to obtain a waiver to do so.