Maine points to results from revised food stamp policy to push for Medicaid work requirements

Under the Trump administration, a handful of states have requested Medicaid waivers that would implement work requirements for beneficiaries. (Getty/AndreyPopov)

Maine, one of a handful of states trying to implement work requirements for Medicaid recipients, is pointing to a similar approach in another public assistance program as evidence the policy can work.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government can grant states waivers to revamp their Medicaid programs. The Obama administration approved applications from states including Indiana, which requires Medicaid beneficiaries to pay a share of premiums, but denied others, including requests to add work requirements from New Hampshire, Ohio and Arizona.

But the Trump administration is taking a different view. Its two top health officials, Tom Price and Seema Verma, sent a letter to governors encouraging them to apply for conservative Medicaid reforms—including work requirements.

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Some states have taken them up on that offer, including Arizona, Maine and Kentucky, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Verma has recused herself from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ decision on whether to grant Kentucky’s waiver application, as she helped devise the plan last year through her health consulting business.

In Maine, proponents of linking Medicaid benefits to employment said they have already done so successfully with the state’s food stamp program, according to the WSJ.

After GOP Gov. Paul LePage implemented a policy that required able-bodied adults without dependents to work, undergo training or volunteer in order to receive food stamps, enrollment in the assistance program for that group plunged 90%. In addition, wages for that cohort went up, the state reports.

But advocates for low-income individuals argued that it is more difficult than it seems to access employment in rural areas, and there is evidence that Maine’s policy has pushed many food stamp recipients to rely on food banks instead, the article adds.

Mary Mayhew, Maine’s Health and Human Services commissioner, told the WSJ that the state’s effort with food stamps “demonstrated the value of prioritizing employment” and can be replicated with Medicaid.

“All these efforts are also about supporting a workforce that is really working,” she said.