GOP proposes work requirement for public health care

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt
In this May 10, 2017 photo, Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt fields a question from reporters outside the House chamber during the legislative session in St. Paul.
Jim Mone | AP 2017

Updated: 6:45 p.m. | Posted: 3:55 p.m.

Minnesota Republicans will push to impose a work requirement for the state's health care program for those in poverty.

A group of House and Senate Republicans introduced a bill Monday that would require Medical Assistance enrollees to work at least 80 hours a month, seek employment or enroll in job training programs.

About 1.1 million Minnesotans get Medical Assistance — Minnesota's name for Medicaid. That's health care for people with low incomes, families with children, pregnant women, seniors and people who are blind or have a disability. A single, childless adult on Medical Assistance makes roughly $16,000 or less annually.

The bill has a long list of exemptions, including people already working, people taking care of kids or seniors, the disabled, people over 60 and people in school or a drug treatment program, among others. Lawmakers think the work requirement would apply to about 125,000 people.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said it's meant to control growing costs of public programs while encouraging more Minnesotans to enter the workforce.

Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, is chief author in the House, and said she thinks it will help people take advantage of rising employment and wages — and potential benefits like employer provided health care — all in the improving economy.

"If you are a healthy, able-bodied adult on Medical Assistance, who is not at home caring for a child, you should either be working, looking for work or participating in one of Minnesota's countless job training programs," Fenton said.

But Democrats say it's a misguided effort. Rep. Jennifer Schultz, DFL-Duluth, said it's "cruel" legislation that will increase the state's uninsured rate.

"Hospitals will definitely show us, will report to us, that they'll likely see an increase in uncompensated care, and will take a loss," Schultz said. "And that really puts the higher prices, or the burden on all of us. We're going to have to pay higher prices for that loss of care that's compensated by hospitals."

Schultz said the cost of checking on work requirements will also move money out of care programs and into administrative overhead. Gov. Mark Dayton's office said he is studying the plan, but didn't say whether he supported or opposed it.

Critics say the vast majority of recipients of Medical Assistance would already fall under exemptions made in the legislation. Adding that changes to the program may only drive people to seek care in emergency rooms and drive up costs to hospitals and clinics.

Marybeth Musumechi, associate director at the Kaiser Family Foundation's program on Medicaid and the Uninsured in Washington, D.C., said states are responding to a policy change by the Trump administration. Federal officials have already approved requests for the change from Indiana, Kentucky and Arkansas.

"This is a fundamental change to the Medicaid program," Musumechi said. "In the over 50 year history of the program, no administration has ever before conditioned Medicaid eligibility on work."

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