by Hannah Paxton ’19
Asst. Opinion Editor
How much longer until the American people’s basic rights are renounced entirely? In light of President Trump’s imposition of work requirements for Medicaid, it is impossible to say that we are moving forward as a country. In 2018, we should be opening doors for low-income Americans, not closing them. The decision to mandate work for Medicaid only hinders low-income people when it claims to be helping them.
Initially, the demand for work would appear to be a positive motivation for Medicaid recipients. The letter to state Medicaid directors says that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) “will support state efforts to test incentives that make participation in work or other community engagement a requirement for continued Medicaid eligibility.”
The Trump administration’s instruction means well to incentivize beneficiaries to provide for themselves, but is that really the policy’s aim?
The main problem with this change in Medicaid services is that its logic is hypocritical. In defense of the work requirement, the letter argues that working improves health, as those who work are apt to have higher incomes, which is correlated with a longer life span. Therefore, those who are unemployed are more inclined to poorer health, depression, and even death.
This argument is rather convoluted, considering that Medicaid is what provides healthcare. Having good healthcare actually encourages work, contrary to what the letter to Medicaid directors claims. What is framed as an incentive in reality is a punishment for low-income Americans by revoking their fundamental right to healthcare.
While this new demand implies that poorer Americans are not “earning” their healthcare, news website WLFI informs that a Kaiser study showed that the majority of adults who are working-age on Medicaid are already working. Approximately 60 percent work full or part time, primarily for employers that do not grant health insurance.
Meanwhile, most Medicaid beneficiaries who are not working have a disability or an ailment, are in school, or are taking care of a family member. Therefore, the primary effect of work prerequisites is to disqualify an enormous number of low-income people, many of whom obtained health coverage through the expansion of Medicaid.
The Kaiser study also found that charging premiums in the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid diminishes coverage for children and adults. Less people enroll, more leave the program, and less time is spent on the program. Additionally, the effect is largest on those whose income is below the poverty line, and these are the same people who are most likely to be uninsured should they lose coverage.
Helping poor Americans to “get back on their feet” for Medicaid is not the true goal of the CMS policy. Instead, requiring work will have the opposite effect. Since Medicaid was expanded, it has enhanced the financial health of low-income people, amended access to healthcare, and helped to battle the opioid crisis.
Why are poor Americans being punished when they are already working so hard? Rolling back Medicaid will only make it more difficult for them to have access to their basic right to healthcare.