Survey finds 3 out of 4 doctors favor allowing Medicaid work requirements

Medicaid on paper and a stethoscope
A new survey finds a majority of physicians favor allowing states to require Medicaid recipients to work or look for work in order to be eligible. (Getty/designer491)

While a number of physician associations may oppose the idea, 74% of doctors say they favor permitting Medicaid work requirements, according to a new survey.

Three out of four physicians say they support a controversial new federal policy that allows states to require applicants to work or seek a job in order to obtain Medicaid benefits, a survey (PDF) by Merritt Hawkins found.

The survey, conducted in early March and completed by 667 physicians, found that over half (56.6%) indicated they are very favorable to Medicaid work requirements, while 17.8% said they are somewhat favorable. In contrast, only 9.2% were very unfavorable toward the policy and another 8.4% were somewhat unfavorable. The other 8% were neutral.

“The survey strongly suggests that the majority of physicians would like to move away from the Medicaid status quo,” said Travis Singleton, executive vice president of Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruiting company. “Many physicians have been frustrated for years because Medicaid often pays less than their costs of providing care. Physicians have to limit the number of Medicaid patients they treat for that reason and want to focus on those who need care the most.”

As of March, three states—Arkansas, Indiana and Kentucky—have been approved to require certain Medicaid enrollees to work, or prove they are looking for work, in order to receive coverage.

Other states, including Alabama, have taken steps to include such requirements, adding to strict eligibility restrictions. Researchers estimate Alabama's work requirements would result in 8,700 of that state’s poorest residents losing their Medicaid coverage within one year.

RELATED: Researchers estimate Alabama's work requirements would drop 8,700 from Medicaid

The survey showed individual physicians feel differently than some of the professional associations that represent them.

The American Medical Association at its interim meeting last fall passed a resolution opposing work requirements as a criteria for Medicaid eligibility.

In February, the American College of Physicians submitted letters urging the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to reject proposals from state Medicaid agencies to make eligibility contingent on working, searching for work or volunteering.

The idea is also controversial in Washington. Democratic leaders in both chambers demanded last week to know the costs associated with states' work requirement experiments, saying the changes add administrative expenses to already strained budgets. 

The issue may ultimately be decided in the courts. With one lawsuit already challenging Medicaid work requirements in Kentucky and more possible in other states, it will be up to judges to decide whether to overturn those state waivers.