“We’ll call you with the results on Monday.”
If you’ve ever left your doctor’s office after hearing those words, then you’re familiar with the dread. Minutes become hours, hours become days, and the worst fears tend to enter your mind no matter how hard you try to suppress them.
Waiting for that call is excruciating. But a law being proposed in Lansing would make it a lot worse for many in our state.
Michigan’s Senate Bill 897 is ethically, logically and morally wrong; it threatens the healthcare of hundreds of thousands of Michiganders. And it’s going to cost us a boatload.
The bill comes on the heels of a change at the federal level that allows states to request waivers to enforce work requirements on Medicaid recipients.
First, let’s look at what Medicaid is. Medicaid is healthcare. It was designed to help sick people get well and to help healthy people stay that way. And it does a pretty great job. Michiganders with low incomes are able to sleep at night knowing that they can receive healthcare through Medicaid and Michigan’s expanded Medicaid program, the Healthy Michigan Plan. Since its creation in 1965, that’s what Medicaid has been: A healthcare plan.
Now, let’s look at what Medicaid is not. Medicaid is not a jobs program. Jobs programs help train workers, eliminate barriers like transportation and childcare issues, and work with local governments, community members and businesses to find solutions to problems in workforce development. By all means, let’s invest in solid jobs programs!
But some in the Michigan Legislature think we need to complicate the health plan by adding layers of bureaucracy and obstacles with work requirements. Here are a few logical truths to counter the myths being used to push work requirements:
- Most Medicaid recipients who can work are already working. Those who don’t work are students, caregivers, retired or in poor health.
- Michiganders enrolled in Healthy Michigan are doing better at work and are able to find work because they have healthcare. It’s not a big stretch: Being healthy makes it easier to thrive in the workplace. But it doesn’t work the other way around. Being at work doesn’t suddenly cure health problems.
- Medicaid recipients, employers, doctors and state employees will be burdened with paperwork, red tape and additional hurdles. These complications will strain the state and cause many struggling Michiganders to lose coverage.
- It’s going to cost us. Kentucky, which recently implemented work requirements, reports that just setting up the infrastructure to track work requirements will cost nearly $187 million in the first six months alone.
Work requirements are potentially illegal. Under the act that created the Medicaid program, certain parts of the Medicaid Act can be waived, but new eligibility criteria cannot be imposed—in this case, the criteria of work in order to qualify for Medicaid. Legal challenges have already begun in Kentucky that could have repercussions on any states pursuing work requirements. Michigan lawmakers should wait and see how that case unfolds.
I’m obviously urging you to take action on this issue. But I’m also asking you to start talking about it. Talk to your friends, your neighbors, your family. Help them to understand what Medicaid is and what it is not.
I also hope you’ll listen. Over the years Medicaid has helped millions of Michiganders, from those going through a rough patch to those struggling with chronic health problems or terminal illness. It is likely that someone you love or know has benefited from Medicaid. Take the time to listen to how it helped them temporarily or on a long-term basis. And encourage them to share their story to make a difference.
Healthy people are better able to work, but working people do not automatically become healthy. Let’s stop discussing unnecessary plans like this and instead focus on the real things Michigan residents need to work and provide for their families, including Medicaid and other assistance programs, job training, adult education, high-quality child care, reliable public transportation, and more.
By Gilda Z. Jacobs, president & CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy since 2011
April 4, 2018