In a tenure marked mostly by continued attacks on Michigan’s most vulnerable communities, Governor Rick Snyder, with the help of progressive groups on the ground, accomplished one really good thing: the Healthy Michigan Plan, a Medicaid expansion plan allowing hundreds of thousands of low-income Michiganders to receive health insurance. Expanding Medicaid was a welcome departure from typical conservative policies that prioritize money over people.
But recently, Snyder managed to tarnish that one bright spot by signing a bill adding a work requirement for Medicaid recipients.
Supporters of the bill – and the Trump administration guidance that allows Medicaid work requirements – sell it as a way to make sure Medicaid recipients are really “earning” their benefits. While conservatives continuously push the talking point that people use government programs as an alternative to having a job, there is no reason to believe people on Medicaid aren’t working. There is also no correlation between expanding Medicaid and a change in labor participation because the vast majority of Medicaid enrollees are either working or unable to work. Quite simply: Medicaid work requirements are a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
Unfortunately, work requirements will have an impact. While certain groups, including people with disabilities and the elderly, will be exempt, it’s important to consider those who serve as caregivers; suffer from mental health issues or substance abuse; or are otherwise unable to work for reasons that do not exempt them. If work requirements are put into place, they will be left without health care.
Even some recipients who do work could lose coverage mostly due to the nature of low-income work. For Medicaid recipients who deal with inconsistent hours and employment gaps, documenting their employment in a way that satisfies the work requirements would be a significant added burden–a burden that it is completely unnecessary.
It’s time we call Medicaid work requirements what they are: an attack on low-income communities. Snyder didn’t sign them into law because of any real problem with individuals abusing Medicaid, but rather because he values saving money and pandering to conservatives more than protecting peoples’ access to health care. Michigan deserves leaders who will stand up for low-income communities and work to ensure that everyone can access the care they need–no exceptions.