States can require Medicaid recipients to work for benefits under new Trump policy

By Sara Shayanian  |  Jan. 11, 2018 at 8:03 AM
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Jan. 11 (UPI) -- For the first time, states will be allowed to move toward requiring some Medicaid recipients to work to receive benefits, under new guidelines issued by President Donald Trump's administration Thursday.

The policy shift by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services instructs states on how to compel "able-bodied, working-age" Medicaid recipients to work in order to receive benefits.

"Medicaid needs to be more flexible so that states can best address the needs of this population. Our fundamental goal is to make a positive and lasting difference in the health and wellness of our beneficiaries, and today's announcement is a step in that direction," CMS Administrator Seema Verma said.

The new policy is a response to numerous state test programs through Medicaid projects in which recipients participated in community engagement activities, including skills training, education, job search, volunteering and care giving.

The conditions would exclude individuals eligible for Medicaid due to disability, elderly beneficiaries, children and pregnant women.

"Our policy guidance was in response to states that asked us for the flexibility they need to improve their programs and to help people in achieving greater well-being and self-sufficiency," Verma said.

CMS has received project proposals from 10 states that include employment and community engagement initiatives -- Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin.

"States have the opportunity to help individuals improve and enhance the skills that employers truly value," Verma said. "People who participate in activities that increase their education and training are more likely to find sustainable employment, have higher earnings, a better quality of life, and, studies have shown, improved health outcomes."

Several states had previously addressed the notion of cutting off Medicaid benefits to people who can work, but don't, but the idea was repeatedly refused by former President Barack Obama's government, CNN reported Thursday.

Thursday's policy change is the first to open the door to mandating work for recipients since Medicaid's introduction in 1965.

CMS said the new policy seeks to help improve the economic situation of Medicaid recipients.

"This new guidance paves the way for states to demonstrate how their ideas will improve the health of Medicaid beneficiaries, as well as potentially improve their economic well-being," CMS Deputy Administrator and Director for the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services Brian Neale said.

Republicans have long wanted to add work requirements for Medicaid recipients -- which covers nearly 75 million low-income children, adults and elderly and disabled Americans.

Many Medicaid recipients are employed. According to government statistics, 60 percent of non-disabled, working-age adults having a job, while nearly 80 percent live with families that have at least one member in the labor force.

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