Verma doubles down on supporting Medicaid work requirements as enrollment swells

Seema Verma
CMS Administrator Seema Verma reiterated support for Medicaid work requirements in a recent interview. (HIMSS)

The head of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reiterated support for Medicaid work requirements as enrollment in the program swells this year.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma spoke about work requirements during an interview Wednesday with the Aspen Institute.

Her remarks come less than a month after a study in Health Affairs found that work requirements in Arkansas did not lead to more employment.

“I am supportive of states making decisions about their programs and deciding what has worked best,” Verma said.

She added that 20 states have been interested in the work requirements program.

CMS has approved waivers for 10 states but currently no states are running a work requirement program. Arkansas, Indiana, Michigan and New Hampshire all started work requirement programs, but court rulings struck them down. Utah implemented its work requirement program in January, but it was suspended in April due to COVID-19, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.

RELATED: DOJ, Arkansas ask Supreme Court to reinstate Medicaid work requirements

Verma said that the goal of the programs were to help improve the health of able-bodied Medicaid beneficiaries.

“We saw the data that people engaged in work have better health outcomes,” she said. “When we talk about social determinants of health, just giving somebody a Medicaid card isn’t going to solve their problems.”

But opponents of the program say that the requirements will cause beneficiaries to inadvertently lose Medicaid coverage and that most of the people on Medicaid are already working.

After Arkansas’ program went into effect in June 2018, about 18,000 people lost their Medicaid coverage. A federal judge struck down the program last year.

Court rulings have also struck down other programs after lawsuits from advocates argued that the requirements go against the intent of the Medicaid law to provide health insurance to low-income Americans.

Verma’s remarks also come at a time when more people are joining Medicaid this year.

An August study in Health Affairs found that Medicaid rolls swelled by more than 1.7 million from March through June of this year in 27 states. The study said that the losses weren’t “systemically related to job losses.”

Another analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that total enrollment grew to 73.5 million beneficiaries in May, an increase of 800,000 people from April 2020.

“These trends likely reflect changes in the economy (as more people experience income and job loss and become eligible and enroll in Medicaid coverage) and provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) that require states to ensure continuous coverage to current Medicaid enrollees to access a temporary increase in the Medicaid match rate,” the analysis said.