A Republican state senator wants to impose work requirements for Medicaid recipients that are stricter than those the state has proposed, arguing that people are leaving the workforce to claim the tax-funded health benefits.
Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said, “There were folks who were working, and they had health insurance at work, but when the government said, ‘We’ll provide health insurance for you,’ they left work, and, of course, those are able-bodied folks who were working.”
Huffman, testifying Tuesday before a Senate committee considering his proposal, said that in his northwest Ohio district, he has heard of “many” employees of nursing homes who left their jobs “because they were working just for the health insurance.”
“There is a real disincentive for people to work if you are at a certain income category and you qualify (for Medicaid). The government is in effect competing with employers for these workers by providing these benefits,” he said.
The joint federal and state Medicaid program provides health insurance for nearly 3 million poor and disabled Ohioans.
Huffman’s proposal, Senate Bill 25, would require Medicaid recipients 18 to 65 years old to work at least 20 hours a week to qualify for benefits. There would be exemptions for those: attending college or in a job-training program; in an alcohol- or drug-addiction treatment program; deemed by a doctor to be physically or mentally unfit for employment; or caring for a child under age 1 or a child with a medical condition or disability.
If passed, the bill would require state officials to amend a more-limited proposal submitted to federal regulators at the legislature’s direction in April. That plan, which is awaiting approval, would impose work requirements on able-bodied adults up to age 50 who became eligible for Medicaid under the 2014 program expansion. State officials projected that 36,000 Ohioans could lose coverage for failing to meet the mandate.
Huffman noted that federal regulators have approved requests from other states to require work up to age 65; Kentucky and New Hampshire are among them, although neither has implemented a plan.
According to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Ohio is one of 15 states to submit requests for Medicaid work requirements. Seven have been approved, and of those, two, from Arkansas and Indiana, have been implemented.
Five requests require those up to age 50 to work, and the others apply to those at ages up to 60 to 65. Most seek a minimum of 20 hours a week.
If federal bureaucrats approve Huffman’s plan, “there will be a lot of people who will go back to work,” he said. That will help employers who can’t find workers, he said.
Some members of the Senate panel questioned Huffman’s plan.
Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said unemployment is low, and plenty of jobs are available, but that won’t always be the case.
“Why should the government be competing for these workers with the private sector?” Huffman responded.
Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, pointed to a recent Medicaid survey showing that half of the Medicaid-expansion population is working, and 60 percent of unemployed beneficiaries said having health care made it easier to look for a job. Of those leaving the Medicaid rolls, 71 percent said it was because they found a job or their income increased.
“Aren’t we already seeing the success that we hoped for? (Do) we need those work requirements when folks are telling us just having health care helped them seek and find work?” Antonio asked.
Huffman said “hundreds of thousands” of Medicaid recipients are not working or looking for a job.
He also noted that in other states that have imposed work requirements, Medicaid rolls dropped “dramatically.”
That’s a trend that critics of work requirements say is a concern. In Arkansas, 18,000 people lost Medicaid coverage for failing to meet work requirements imposed last year for recipients 18 to 50 years old.
Ohio Medicaid spokesman Tom Betti said, “We are currently reviewing the bill and will be available to our partners in the legislature for discussion and technical assistance throughout the process.”