Requiring work for Medicaid is 'inhumane ... cruelty'

The following editorial was excerpted from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Trump administration recently announced it was open to states being able to impose, through the granting of waivers, work requirements on the poor in exchange for their ability to get health care through Medicaid. This reverses decades of policy that prohibited such restrictions.

States would be able to cut off Medicaid benefits to people unless they have a job, are in school, are caregivers or volunteers, or participate in community engagement. Ten states have already applied for waivers that would allow them to impose requirements; Kentucky has been granted such a waiver.

Work requirements are already in place for food stamps and welfare, but imposing work requirements in exchange for the ability to get medical treatment is not only inhumane, but would save little, if anything, especially considering the administrative structure that would be required to monitor Medicaid recipients job-seeking efforts.

Those in favor of this cruelty claim people with jobs and good benefits are healthier, so encouraging work will benefit people's health. That nice fantasy disregards the reality that low-wage jobs are inadequate to raise a family or pay for health coverage. It also underscores the lack of understanding of Medicaid.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 80 percent of Medicaid recipients live in working families; nearly 60 percent are working themselves. Most of those who don't work have impediments like disabilities or caregiving responsibilities.

As we have seen in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer report, getting SSI disability can be a daunting challenge, and many disabilities and illnesses don't rise to the level of SSI. Unfortunately, that includes opioid addiction, so cutting off Medicaid to those needing treatment will only exacerbate the current crisis.

It's true that Medicaid represents a huge financial commitment. So do tax cuts for the wealthy, and giveaways to corporations. The underpinning of these supposed cost-saving Medicaid measures is a favorite myth of Republicans: that the poor are content to live off the government and given the choice between working and not, they'd rather not.

If people's dignity and self-respect is really a goal, there are simple ways to achieve that: Stop demonizing them and take actions like raising the minimum wage, which would allow people to support themselves and their families, and maybe afford health care.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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