Democratic lawmakers urge CMS to rethink endorsement of Medicaid work requirements

The fight over Medicaid work requirements is heating up.

Seventy-two Democratic members of Congress—led by Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore—sent a letter on Thursday to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma slamming her agency’s recent guidance that encourages states to apply for waivers that allow them to require Medicaid beneficiaries to work.

“We ask that you rescind this harmful guidance and deny all state applications to apply work requirements to Medicaid,” the letter says, citing research that indicates such restrictions can leave impoverished individuals even worse off than they already are.

“Denying coverage to those eligible for Medicaid will not encourage them to work, but would instead restrict their access to healthcare services and endanger their health,” the letter added.

So far, Kentucky is the only state to have a waiver approved that allows it to impose work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries. But a growing number have put in applications.

In fact, Mississippi has become the latest to throw its hat in the ring. The state’s waiver application—which just opened for public comment—asks the federal government to approve a five-year demonstration program that requires nonexempt beneficiaries to work or complete other “workforce training” activities for 20 hours per week. Other qualifying activities could include volunteering with approved agencies or participating in a drug-abuse treatment program. If beneficiaries fail to comply with these requirements, they will lose their eligibility for Medicaid.

In addition to Mississippi, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin have all filed waiver applications seeking to impose some form of work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries.

If any of those waiver applications are approved, however, they could be met with lawsuits similar to the one recently filed on behalf of Kentucky Medicaid beneficiaries. The suit, according to one of the advocacy organizations that filed it, calls on a federal court to “stop the Trump administration from re-writing the Medicaid Act and stripping Kentuckians of vital healthcare.”