Medicaid work requirements face health, legal challenges

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Tens of thousands of Americans could soon be kicked off free government health care for the poor if they don’t find a job.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) said able-bodied individuals without children should have to work, volunteer, or go to school to qualify for Medicaid. “it’s very important,” he said while noting, “the idea is not to throw anybody out in the cold.”

Kennedy hopes his state asks the federal government’s permission to make the change. The White House granted Kentucky and Indiana’s request. Eleven other states submitted similar applications.

Health and legal experts in Washington D.C. said proposed work requirements have their flaws.

Joan Alker spends her days delving through Medicaid data as a research professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. “It’s not going to provide jobs for people if you take people’s health coverage away,” she said, “they’re less likely to be able to work, not more.”

Alker said if patients lose insurance, they’ll skip preventive care and get treated in costlier emergency rooms, increasing costs for everyone.

A challenge to Kentucky’s new Medicaid policy is currently before a federal judge in Washington. “I’m not a bookmaker,” said George Washington University Law Professor Alan Morrison, “but I think they’ve got a strong case.”

Morrison said he sees merit in arguments that the policy doesn’t fit within Medicaid’s legal framework. He said the court is likely to put a hold on Kentucky’s new requirements until a decision is made. “I imagine it will be on a pretty fast track,” he said.

Under its federally-approved plan, Kentucky’s change is scheduled to take effect in July. Regardless of what the court decides, Congress could settle the issue by rewriting the law.

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